Obama stresses college affordability in Buffalo speech

Aug 23, 2013

President Barack Obama came to Buffalo to deliver a speech on affordable higher education at the University at Buffalo.

Obama kicked-off a two-day bus tour in Buffalo Thursday. He appeared at UB's Alumni Arena in Amherst to unveil his plan to make college education more affordable, speaking for around 40 minutes. A transcript of the speech can here read here.

The President used the University as backdrop to launch his three-point reform plan to cut the cost of college, saying an affordable education is an "economic imperative."

"Higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America and if we don't do something about keeping it within reach, it will create problems for economic mobility for generations to come, and that's not acceptable," Obama said.

"The bottom line is, higher education cannot be a luxury."

Obama is proposing a new college rating system that measures value and affordability. He says he wants the system in place by the 2015 school year.

The president also called for greater competition between colleges and universities to encourage affordability, and greater assistance in helping indebted student be able to manage and pay off their loans.

"We're going to jumpstart new competition between colleges, not just on the field or on the court, but in terms of innovation that encourages affordability and encourages student success and doesn't sacrifice educational quality," Obama said.

The President says tackling high debt people stack up after college must end. Obama said he wants more students to be able to join the 'Pay as You Earn' program, which caps loan repayments at 10% of income.

"We're going to make sure that if you have to take on debt to earn your college degree, that you have ways to manage and afford it," he added.

The President congratulated UB for taking major steps to make education more affordable. UB President Satish Tripathi says UB is doing better than the national average when it comes to cost.

"It is important to make sure that we are providing quality education and graduating students and they're not completely drowning in loans," Tripathi said.

Tripathi says he believes the President's proposed reforms can be achieved by other colleges and universities.

A UB sophomore from Grand Island had the honor of introducing the President. 19-year-old Silvana D'Ettorre says she received a call from the White House Tuesday night telling her she was selected to make the introduction.

19-year-old Silvana D'Ettorre, UB sophomore from Grand Island, had the honor of introducing the President.
Credit WBFO News photo by Syliva Bennett

"When I walked up there, I had a lot of adrenaline. Everyone's energy was making me excited. It was incredible," said D'Ettore.

After the event, UB student Emily Pumm said Obama's plan for making higher education more affordable sounds good to her.

"It's good to hear that the President of the United States is making a lot of efforts to make sure that we're not in a bad state once we leave college. The whole reason to come to college is to have more opportunities and not be held back in what you want to do," Pumm said.

The thousands who gathered at Alumni Arena provided a huge roar of applause as Obama took to the podium around 11:15 a.m. The volume lowered as the President committed a gaffe in his opening remarks.

"Your outstanding mayor Brian Higgins is here," Obama said mistakenly. "Byron Brown, I'm sorry, Byron. What I meant was your Congressman Brian Higgins is here. Your Mayor Byron Brown is here."

"This is what happens when you get to be 52 years old," Obama joked.

"I think it was just a slip of the tongue. We all had a lot of fun with it," Brown later told reporters.

The president's plane, Air Force One, arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport around 10:15 a.m. Thursday. He was greeted by Mayor Brown, Rep. Higgins, and Governor Andrew Cuomo on the tarmac.

He then took a short walk across the tarmac to meet about three dozen invited guests. Among them was the brother of a Secret Service agent, Mark Weich of Holland, who got to shake Obama's hand.

"It was pretty exciting, a little crazy. My son is with me, taking in a little bit of history" said Weich. "Who knows when an opportunity like this will arise again."

His 8-year old son Alex said seeing the President was "pretty neat."

More than a dozen people rallied in a controlled area across from Alumni Arena Thursday. While some were there to ask President Obama to pull out of the Middle East and stop using drones, the majority of protestors were there to urge the president to ban the gas drilling practice known as hydrofracking.

Rita Yelda, with Food and Water Watch, says her group was hoping to get the chance to meet the president and let their stance be known.

"We're calling on President Obama to get away from natural gas, get away from fossil fuels," Yelda said.

There was also a group on campus voicing support for President Obama and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Garrett Dicembre, with the Buffalo and International Action Center, says his group was there to urge the president to stop the use of drones and pull out of the Middle East and Egypt.

"I would be telling him to get his bases and the military out of all of the countries around the world where they should not be, to stop bombing these countries, and to stop sponsoring that kind of terrorism, because the world can do without it. Put that money toward things here like universal health care and education," Dicembre said.

Protesters, however, didn’t get their chance to see the President, as he came and went in a back entrance. The crowd drifted away as soon as they heard Obama was inside the arena.

Following the Buffalo visit, Obama's bus tour left for Syracuse. On Friday, he'll visit Binghamton and Scranton, PA.