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President Barack Obama spoke about college debt, job growth

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With a less than stellar economy and an election year upon him, President Barack Obama used part of his third State of the Union address Tuesday night to challenge rising college tuition and make students want to cheer.

The president opened his speech by thanking those who served in the armed forces, before shifting his focus to the economy and job growth, two subjects that are concerning for many Ohio residents.

Obama also presented the nation with his blueprint for economic revival. The plan was titled, “An America Built to Last,” and laid out Obama’s plans to restart the economy.

“An economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers,” Obama wrote in the blueprint.

Obama said innovation is at the root of American history and is key to fixing the economy.

“An economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country,” Obama said. “That means women should earn equal pay for equal work. It means we should support everyone who’s willing to work; and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs.”

Obama said part of reviving the economy involves reforming education.

“These reforms will help people get jobs that are open today. But to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier,” Obama said.

Many Ohio State students gathered at various locations around campus to listen as Obama laid out a blueprint for America in 2012. During the speech, some student leaders voiced their support for the president.

“I’m excited by it. He’s striking a lot of chords that I personally care about, and I think a lot of students care about too,” said Mike Triozzi, a fourth-year in history and president of the College Democrats at OSU.

Triozzi and a crowd of more than 40 College Democrats watched the president’s speech at Hang Over Easy on Neil Avenue. Obama for America-Ohio sponsored the event.

Obama called on all states to make high school graduation requirements stricter.

“When students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma,” Obama said. “So tonight, I call on every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.”

Obama acknowledged, however, that high school graduation was not the end to the problem. College affordability can be a big issue for college hopefuls.

“When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college,” Obama said. “At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.”

Obama also called on Congress and universities to create more work-study programs.

“Give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years,” Obama said.

Obama called on state governments to reduce the cost of higher education, and to make higher education a priority.

“It’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets,” Obama said. “Colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.”

In Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget plan, tuition raises were capped at 3.5 percent for public universities, including OSU’s. In 2011, tuition for an in-state student was $8,856 for three quarters at OSU.

“So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down,” Obama said. “Higher education can’t be a luxury, it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Aubrey Beltran, a first-year in public affairs, said when Obama said colleges that could not lower tuition would lose funding, she wanted to cheer. Beltran watched the speech at a watch party hosted by the Politics, Society and Law Scholars and the John Glenn Civic Leadership Council.

“I was really lucky enough to come here, but this is also ridiculously expensive,” Beltran said. “It’s a great education and luckily Ohio has these amazing state schools … (But the tuition raises are) just ridiculous, it’s absolutely ludicrous, especially for state schools.”

Mary Posani contributed to this story.

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