This post was written by Hatchet reporter Kiara Bhagwanjee.
President Barack Obama highlighted education as a key driver to improving the economy’s future success at his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Obama told members of Congress he hoped to work with them to offer free community college around the country and enhance tax credits for education and child care. Those initiatives would help ease the financial pressures on middle class families, he said.
He told the story of a middle class family from Minnesota, who have struggled to pay off student loans, save for retirement and pay for childcare, which Obama said cost as much as a year of tuition at the University of Minnesota for their two children.
“Helping hardworking families make ends meet. Giving them the tools they need for good-paying jobs in this new economy. Maintaining the conditions for growth and competitiveness. This is where America needs to go,” he said.
Building on an announcement earlier this month that he’d seek to create a plan for free community college, Obama said that having a higher education degree would give more Americans an edge up in competitive job openings.
He praised a job-training program established by Vice President Joe Biden that prepares community college students for higher-paying jobs in fields like coding, nursing and robotics.
“Free community college is possible,” he said. “I want to work with this Congress, to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams,” he said.
Obama also urged businesses to follow in the footsteps of companies like CVS and UPS, asking that they offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships.
“We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world,” he said. “This plan is [their] chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt,” he said.
Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, who gave the official Republican Party rebuttal, didn’t directly address any of Obama’s goals for education, instead focusing on issues concerning Obamacare and the generation of jobs for Americans through international markets.
Other Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), questioned how Obama’s community college goals would be funded during and after his speech.