Conference call with President Obama

President Obama participated in a conference call with student-journalists on Monday to discuss issues affecting young Americans.

More than 100 college and university media outlets took part in the conference call.

During the discussion, Obama touched on hot-button issues like the Affordable Health Care for America Act and the economy. Chief among the pertinent matters addressed was that of the state of higher education in America.

“In a single generation we’ve fallen from first to 12th in college graduation rates for young adults. And if we’re serious about building a stronger economy and making sure we succeed in the 21st century, then the single most important step we can take is to make sure that every young person gets the best education possible,” said Obama.

Many factors have contributed to the decline of our higher education system; the foregoing decline of K-12 school systems; surges of national conservatism which perpetuated the foolhardy military-industrial complex, that in turn placed brawn before brains. But what has arguably destroyed the quality of our colleges and universities is the unnecessary competitiveness and excess that exists among them.

For several years universities nation-wide have inflated grades to build their academic reputations. They’ve also enforced superfluous admissions standards, which often exclude the very people they are meant to serve. Others have made financial and emotional investments in athletic programs, completely taking academic integrity for granted. All of this occurred as the cost of obtaining a college education rose 439 percent over a 30-year period, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

It’s not a rarity to walk onto the campus of any major institution in the country only to find amenities that you’d only expect to see in an up-scale neighborhood. These are mere ploys schools use to attract their patrons, many of whom cannot graduate as a result of having to pay for such lavish conveniences in tuition costs.

President Obama recalled his days as a college student and how unfathomable it was for colleges to have the luxuries they do today. “You’re not going to a university to join a spa; you’re going there to learn so that you can have a fulfilling career. And if all the amenities of a public university start jacking up the cost of tuition significantly, that’s a problem.”

A large problem indeed, as during the president’s college years, the United States led the world in the number of college graduates it produced. This is a far cry from today; only 38.5 percent of Americans hold an associates degree or higher, according to College Board.

But blame cannot be placed on colleges and universities alone. The state governments responsible for properly funding public colleges and universities, making an education more accessible to their citizens, have completely dropped the ball when it comes to making education a priority.

In Florida, the state university system has endured some of the worst budget cuts in the country while faculty have been laid off and tuition has risen by 32 percent over a two-year period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This is mostly due to complacent lawmakers who refuse to impose higher taxes to cover the budget shortfalls caused by lost revenue.

As it stands, America is no longer the cat’s meow as it pertains to economic viability and education standards. As other countries emerging as economic powers begin to close in on America’s dominance, our universities must shift their focus away from quantity and grandiosity and toward producing graduates that will ensure that the 21st century is another American century.