• October 25, 2014

In Speech on Economy, Obama Vows to 'Shake Up' Higher Education

President Obama, in a speech on the economy on Wednesday, said he planned to "lay out an aggressive strategy to shake up" higher education in the next few months.

Speaking at Knox College, in Galesburg, Ill., a community hit hard by industrial layoffs, the president revived a message from his 2012 campaign, which highlighted the importance of education to the economy and made a sharp critique of rising college costs.

"Today more students are earning their degree, but soaring costs saddle them with unsustainable debt," Mr. Obama said on Wednesday at Knox. "Families and taxpayers can't just keep paying more and more into an undisciplined system where costs just keep on going up and up and up. We'll never have enough loan money, we'll never have enough grant money to keep up with costs that are going up 5, 6, 7 percent a year. We've got to get more out of what we pay for."

Echoing some sentiments of his 2013 State of the Union address, after which he called for a new and more flexible system for accrediting colleges, Mr. Obama also highlighted a few of the educational ideas he plans to encourage.

"Some colleges are testing new approaches to shorten the path to a degree or blending teaching with online learning to help students master material and earn credits in less time," the president said. "Some states are testing new ways to fund college based not just on how many students enroll but how many of them graduate, how well do they do."

Taking note of several former Maytag factory workers who sought retraining at the nearby Carl Sandburg College after being laid off, Mr. Obama also spoke of the value of education. "If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century," he said, paraphrasing a line often attributed to Derek Bok, the former Harvard president.

After the speech, the president was slated to visit the University of Central Missouri, home to a program that lets high-school students earn college credits through Metropolitan Community College and then continue on for their bachelor's degrees.

Clarification (7/25/2013, 3:26 p.m.): This article originally described a quotation in President Obama's speech as a paraphrase of a line "made famous by" Derek Bok, the former Harvard president. In response to a subsequent question from The Chronicle, Mr. Bok said the quotation was often incorrectly attributed to him. So while it seems likely that those incorrect attributions helped make the quote famous, the article's implication that he was the source of the quote was wrong. The article has been updated to reflect this new information.

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