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Student Aid Is a Recurring Theme as Obama Outlines Plans for a Second Term

Charlotte, N.C.—As he formally accepted his party’s nomination for a second term as president, Barack Obama framed this year’s election as a fundamental choice on important issues, including access to higher education.

President Obama, shown onstage with former President Bill Clinton at the convention on Wednesday, wove references to the importance of providing student aid into several parts of his acceptance speech on Thursday night. (Photo by Douglas Graham, CQ Roll Call, Getty)

In his 38-minute speech on Thursday night, Mr. Obama told an arena brimming to its legal capacity here that “no family should have to set aside a college acceptance letter because they don’t have the money.”

Mr. Obama listed as one of his achievements the end of the federal bank-based lending program, a move he said converted wasteful taxpayer subsidies of commercial banks into savings for students.

He also laid out two new promises relating to higher education. First, he said he would “give two million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job.” He also pledged to “work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next 10 years.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama announced a proposal, as part of a broader focus on college affordability, to withhold some types of federal student aid from colleges that do not sufficiently slow the growth of tuition and produce good student outcomes. His administration did not outline many specifics of that plan, but many higher education leaders and Congressional Republicans spoke out against it.

In addition to mentioning those specific policies, Mr. Obama’s speech simultaneously made the philosophical case for investing federal funds in student aid and cited it as an example of his vision for the proper role of government.

He wove the importance of providing student financial aid into several parts of his speech, linking it to opportunity and the American dream.

“We believe that a little girl who’s offered an escape from poverty by a great teacher or a grant for college could become the founder of the next Google, or the scientist who cures cancer, or the president of the United States,” he said.

Echoing the criticism he has lobbed against Mr. Romney on the issue of college affordability while on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama again derided his opponent for remarks that borrowing money from one’s parents is a way to finance education.

He implied that Mr. Romney would prioritize fiscal austerity over aid to struggling students.

“I don’t believe that firing teachers or kicking students off financial aid will grow the economy, or help us compete with the scientists and engineers coming out of China,” he said. Later in his speech, he added that he would “refuse to ask students to pay more for college” in order to pay down the national debt.

As Mr. Obama has sought to paint his Republican opponent as an enemy of students seeking an affordable college education, Mr. Romney’s campaign has pointed out that college costs have continued to skyrocket over the past four years. The Romney campaign has also said Mr. Obama has failed recent graduates by not doing a better job of jump-starting the economy.

While Mr. Obama spent a large portion of his speech discussing jobs and the economy broadly, he did not specifically address the unemployment rate for recent graduates.

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