Remarks by the President in Town Hall on Middle-Class Economics
Ivy Tech Community College
2:33 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody! (Applause.) Hello, Hoosiers! (Applause.) Thank you so much. Well, please, everybody, have a seat. Have a seat. Let me begin by saying thank you to Mayor Ballard for that introduction, for all the great work you’re doing for the people of Indianapolis, and for your service as a Marine. We are very proud of the partnership that we've had with this city.
I also want to recognize Ivy Tech Chancellor Kathleen Lee and President Tom Snyder. Where are they? (Applause.) There they are over here. Some outstanding members of Congress -- Joe Donnelly, our Senator. Where’s Joe? There he is. (Applause.) Congressman André Carson. (Applause.) And somebody who has been a great friend for the people of this state, the people of this nation, a great friend to me personally, one of the people who have ensured that America is safe for so many years -- former senator and mayor of Indianapolis, Dick Lugar. (Applause.)
On the way over here, Dick and I were reminiscing about the first foreign trip I ever took was with Dick Lugar. He was the savvy veteran; I was the green-behind-the-ears freshman. We went to Russia. We were both interested in nuclear proliferation. He had really written the book on it. And Dick Lugar seems like a kind of relaxed guy, but if you're on a trip with him, he will wear you out. (Laughter.) And then at one point, we were actually held by a Russian colonel at the airport for about three hours -- which normally might have made people nervous, but Dick, he’d been around the block a few times, so he just took a nap. (Laughter.) It was fine. It got cleared up.
It is great to be back in Indiana, great to be back close to my home state. I respect the Pacers. (Laughter.) But, yes, I am a Bulls fan. I make no apologies. We've had some fierce rivalries in the past, and I'm looking forward to Mr. George and others getting back on track so we can have some more playoff runs.
But that's not all that I know about this state. One of my first trips as President was to Elkhart, and I stopped by some of your manufacturing plants. I played 3-on-3 at a school up in Kokomo -- and my team won, by the way. (Laughter.) When it comes to elections, I’m batting .500. I'm one for two -- which isn't bad. (Applause.) The last time -- I will acknowledge the last time I got kind of smoked here in Indiana. (Laughter.) But that’s okay. That’s exactly why I wanted to come back. And I don't plan to take too long in the front because I want to make sure that we've got some time for questions.
But when I gave my State of the Union address a couple of weeks ago, I repeated a vision that I originally laid out in Boston over a decade ago. And that's a vision that says there’s no liberal America or conservative America, there’s the United States of America. And I know that sometimes it seems like our politics are more divided than ever; that in parts of Indiana, the only blue you’ll ever see is on Colts signs -- (laughter) -- and in Chicago, the only red is for the Chicago Bulls. But I still believe what I said back then, that we actually have so much more in common than not.
It doesn’t always get focused on in our politics. And I’ve seen so much of the good, generous, big-hearted optimism of people across the country these past six years to give in to the cynicism that sometimes gets peddled as wisdom around the country.
And we’ve come a long way these past six years since we suffered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Now, this morning, we found out that America’s businesses added another 267,000 jobs. (Applause.) In 2014, our economy created more than 3.1 million jobs, and that's the best year of job growth since the 1990s. (Applause.) So, all told, over the past 59 months, the private sector has added about 11.8 million -- so that's almost 12 million -- new jobs. And that's the longest streak of private sector job growth in our history.
Meanwhile, our deficits are shrinking -- they’ve gone down by about two-thirds. Our dropout rates are down. Our graduation rates are up. We’re as free of foreign oil as we’ve been in 30 years. We've doubled the amount of clean energy that we're producing. A lot of families are saving a lot of money at the gas pump, which is putting some smiles on folks’ faces. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you!
THE PRESIDENT: You're welcome. (Laughter and applause.) Although I was telling somebody the other day, at some point they’re going to go back up, so don't start -- (laughter) -- going out there and ignoring the mileage when you're buying a new car. You’ve got to keep looking for those savings.
And in the single most hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are starting to go up again. (Applause.)
So America is poised for another good year. Indianapolis is poised for another good year -- as long as Washington works to keep this progress going. And I was struck as I was listening to the Mayor’s introduction -- here in Indiana, we've been able to do some good things because we haven't been so worried about Democrat-Republican; we focused more on trying to get the job done. And that attitude we're hoping to kind of infect Washington with, try to adapt that same attitude when it comes to the problems that we face going forward. And Dick Lugar was a great example of that.
We have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any nation on Earth. But we've got to make some decisions about what that future looks like. Are we going to be a nation where a few of us do spectacularly well and everybody else is struggling to get by? Or are we going to have a country in which everybody has opportunity, everybody has got a chance to succeed?
Last year, I got a letter from Jyliann Milham, who lives up in Fishers. Where’s Jyliann? There she is right there, right in front. And Jyliann has got four kids, ages six through 16 -- which means that she’s busy. (Laughter.) For 13 years, Jyliann was a stay-home mom. A few years ago, she was going through a divorce, had to find a way to support her family. She didn’t have a college degree. Most of the jobs that she could find paid minimum wage. As she put it, “I was a mom with four kids, and I had everything coming against me.”
So Jyliann came here to Ivy Tech to invest in herself, learn new skills. She paid her way with the help of a grant from her country and a grant from the state of Indiana. She made the Dean’s list, earned a spot in the radiography program at IUPUI --
(laughter.) And that’s a profession that pays pretty well. And today, she’s a few months from graduating. She’s ready to get started on a new career. (Applause.) Really proud.
And in the letter she wrote, she said, it’s not just the possibility of financial security and career advancement. She said, it’s also “something I can show my children.” It’s about pride, and it’s about being able to point to a brighter future for the next generation.
And that's who I get up for every single day. Sometimes people ask me, Mr. President, your hair is so gray -- (laughter) -- folks are always talking about you not always in the most flattering way -- how do you do it? Well, the reason is folks like Jyliann, who are out there all across Indiana, all across the country; they’re working so hard, doing the right thing, not asking for a handout. They just want to make sure that if they are putting in the effort and they’re meeting their responsibilities that they can get ahead.
And we can’t do it for them, but we can help. We can create structures of opportunity like we have here at Ivy Tech. That’s something we can do for everybody. And that’s what keeps me going. I want to make sure that this is a country where hard work is rewarded and you get a chance to make a decent living.
And that’s what I’ve been calling middle-class economics is all about -- the idea that in this country, everybody does best when everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody has got a fair shot, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules.
We live in a time of constant change. And technology has made some jobs obsolete, global competition has shipped some jobs overseas. It’s tougher to afford economic necessities like child care or health care. And that’s been true since long before the financial crisis hit back in 2007, 2008. And that’s why, at a time when the economy is finally picking up steam and growing again, we’ve got to work twice as hard, especially in Washington, to help more Americans like Jyliann.
So this week, I sent Congress a budget that’s built on this idea of middle-class economics for the 21st century. It means helping middle-class families afford child care and health care, make it a little easier to pay for college without taking on loads of debt, paid leave at work, helping first-time homebuyers, helping people save for retirement. And my budget addresses each of these issues, and it could put thousands of dollars back in the pockets of hardworking middle-class families. (Applause.)
Middle-class economics also means helping more people like Jyliann upgrade their skills. Because this competitive economy is not going to get easier. Folks just aren’t going to be in the same job for 30 years. These young people who are here today, they’re going to have a bunch of different jobs, and they’re going to be -- there’s going to be the need for you to continually upgrade your skills. It’s all about lifelong learning now, not just a one-time deal.
So that’s why my budget makes two years of community college free for every responsible student. (Applause.) Every responsible student. Because here in America, it shouldn’t matter how much money your folks make; if you’re willing to work hard, you should be able to get that opportunity. And you shouldn’t necessarily have $100,000 worth of debt when you leave -- (applause) -- especially if you’re going to go into a profession like teaching.
And we’re not just working to make community colleges free, like Ivy Tech; we want to make our community colleges even better and more responsive, and more attuned to what’s going in the marketplace. Right here, at this school -- one of the best in the country, not just in the state of Indiana -- (applause) -- you’re finding ways to raise graduation rates, and partner with businesses to help provide apprenticeships and other pathways to careers that pay well in fields like construction and technology.
Middle-class economics also means that we’re investing in what makes our economy grown -- better roads, faster Internet, cutting-edge research so that our businesses are creating high-paying jobs. And the good news is we can actually afford to pay for all this. We don’t have to add to our deficits if we’ve got some smart spending cuts and if we fix a tax code that is filled up with special interest loopholes and kickbacks for folks who don’t need them. (Applause.)
And in my budget, I identify some of these. There’s a trust fund loophole that allows the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, who have benefitted more over the last 20 years than anybody when the economy has been growing, but this trust fund loophole allows the top 1 percent of Americans to avoid paying taxes on their unearned income. That’s not something that Jyliann, when she gets her job, is going to be able to do. The majority of people here can’t avoid paying taxes. I don’t know why the folks who are most able to pay them should be able to avoid it. So we need to fix that. And then we can use the savings to cut taxes for middle-class families who really need it. (Applause.)
We know that there are companies that have stashed about $2 trillion overseas that haven’t paid U.S. taxes. Let’s close those loopholes and make it more attractive for businesses to locate here in the United States of America. Let’s give those folks a tax break. They’ll create jobs right here in Indianapolis, right here in Indiana, as opposed to giving tax breaks to folks that are shipping jobs overseas or parking money overseas. We can do that. (Applause.) And use one-time savings from reforming our tax code to put people to work rebuilding America.
These are ideas that are pretty common sense. Now, in Washington, folks saw the budget and said, well, these are Obama’s plan -- some of them are pretty good ideas, but they’re never going to go anyplace because the Republicans control Congress and they’re not going to do it. Well, I’m not pushing these ideas for my sake; I’m pushing them because I think this is where America needs to go. And we should have a healthy debate about how to do the things that are necessary to help America grow.
Republicans and Democrats won’t agree on everything, and that’s fine. But we should agree on the stuff we’re talking about now. We should agree that hardworking families should be able to get child care that’s not more expensive than sending a kid to college. (Applause.) We should agree that somebody like Jyliann, who wants to better herself, should be able to go to college without being loaded up with even more debt.
We should be willing to agree that a great city like Indianapolis needs to keep its infrastructure in good shape in order to attract new businesses so they feel confident that they can get their products and services out to market, and that we’ve got the best-trained workforce in the world because that’s what’s going to make companies want to locate here. Those are things we can agree on. We should agree that the tax code should be fair, and nobody should be treated better just because they’ve got better accountants or better lawyers.
So if Republicans disagree with the way I’m trying to solve these problems, they should put forward their own plans, and I’m happy to look at it. But what we can’t do is ignore the problems and pretend that they don’t matter, pretend that families aren’t out there struggling, doing their best.
And I believe in a crazy thing Dick Lugar once wrote. Dick said, “The other party is also patriotic and may have [some] good ideas.” (Laughter and applause.) That’s shocking. So I know Mayor Ballard believes the same thing, and certainly I do. So let’s roll up our sleeves, work together, and try to get some stuff down. That’s what all of you elected us to do -- not to turn everything into a Washington food fight, not to just refight the old partisan battles. Let’s have a debate that’s worthy of this country, and build on an economy that is picking up steam, and make sure that it is serving everybody, that prosperity is broad-based, that not only everybody is sharing America’s success, but everybody is contributing to America’s success. That's what we're trying to do.
So that's what’s on my mind. Now, I want to hear what’s on your mind. All right? So we're going to start taking some questions. And the way this is going to work is really simple. You raise your hand. (Laughter.) I will call on you. And if you could stand up, introduce yourself, try to keep your question relatively short. I’ll try to keep my answer relatively short. In fact, the only rule I’m going to impose is I’m going to go girl-boy-girl-boy to make sure it’s even. (Laughter.) Make sure it’s fair. All right? Okay, let’s get started. Who wants to go first? This young lady right here.
Q Hi, I’m Erica Walsh (ph) with the College Democrats of Indiana. I was curious how you think offering two-year free community college will impact universities with traditional four-year college?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think a lot of folks are going to still use the traditional pathway of going to a four-year university. And if you -- if that's your best option, God bless you, that's great. There’s always going to be a market for Indiana University or Notre Dame. It’s not like suddenly people are going to stop wanting to go there.
But what the two years of free community college potentially does is for somebody who is cash-strapped, their best option may be let me go get two years in a community college; I may have already at that point gotten the training I need to go out into the workforce and get a good-paying job. Or if I decide that I want to continue with my education, I can now transfer to a four-year institution with those credits, which means that the amount of tuition I’m paying at the four-year university is going to be reduced. Either way you are saving money.
And this is part of what we need to do to be more creative about how do young people get the skills they need without spending as much money or taking on as much debt. This isn’t the only kind of thing we're looking at. For example -- and I think Ivy Tech is looking at this kind of partnership with high schools -- a number of community colleges now are linking up with high schools where you can start taking college credits in high school so that by the time you get to the community college, you've already got some credits, which reduces the amount of time that you have to spend in the community college. And that will save you money, too.
So the point is, is that we have this very rigid system. We have this image in our heads -- okay, you go through high school, and then right away, you go to a four-year university. And instead, what we should be thinking about is how do we create from the time you are in 9th grade all the way until the time that you've got a job, how do we make sure you're able to get the best skills possible at the cheapest cost.
And if there are faster pathways to do that, let’s use those faster pathways. If there are cheaper ways to do that, let’s find ways to reduce cost. Let’s use technology in some cases. Online learning is getter better and better and better. And are there ways in which -- particularly, say, somebody who is a mom and has an irregular schedule and can't be on a campus all day -- are there ways that she can get some credits while still looking after a family, or working part time. So we just have to be much more creative about these issues.
The one thing that in addition to being creative we have to remember is that state legislators have a responsibility to make sure that state institutions are still getting the support that they need. Because part of what’s happened -- (applause) -- part of the reason that the cost of higher education has gone up so rapidly is that state support for those institutions has gone down or not kept up with inflation. So what happens is then school administrators have to make up for it with higher tuition.
Now, the school administrators, they have a responsibility to be more efficient. And students and parents, we have a responsibility to be smart consumers. I joke with Malia and Sasha -- because Malia is now at the age where she’s starting to look at colleges -- and I said, these days I hear everybody is looking for fancy gyms and gourmet food and -- (laughter) -- really spiffy dorms.
Let me tell you, when I was at college, we -- the college I started at, Occidental College, it did have a gym, but like the weight room was -- it was like a medicine ball and you had -- (laughter) -- I mean, it wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t state of the art. The cafeteria, I don’t remember some of the stuff they served there, but I remember it wasn’t that appetizing. (Laughter.) I do know there was something on the menu that we called “roast beast,” because we couldn’t really tell what kind of meat it was. (Laughter.) It was some sort of meat product.
So students and parents have to be better consumers. The universities have to figure out how to become more efficient and also give information to young people ahead of time. Because part of what happens these days is, in recruiting students, they’ll say, don’t worry about it, you’ll be able to afford it. Well, it’s true that, in part, we’ve expanded Pell grants, and we cut out the bank middleman on student loans so that we could give more student loans, that a lot of young people are able to finance college that they couldn’t do before. But if they don’t know ahead of time that when you get out you may have a $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 bill, then that’s a problem. So we’ve got to provide them better information.
But, ultimately, what also has to happen is state legislators have to step up. The federal government will do its part. And we’ve expanded the support we’re giving to students. But these public institutions have a special obligation. And it is a good investment, because the states with the best educational system, that’s where companies are going to go. It’s true not just in this country, it’s true all across the world. (Applause.)
Okay. It’s a gentleman’s turn. This young man right here, white shirt. I’m not sure we’ve got a mic back here. How loud are you? Are you able to just shout? No. (Laughter.) All right. Kind of a soft-spoken guy. Here we go.
Q Hi. I'm a student here at Ivy Tech. My question is, if community college does become free, do you feel as if the value of having an associate’s degree will begin to drop?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely not. But I think it’s a good question. I’ve been asked this question before. I don’t know where this is coming from.
I’ll tell you a story -- or I’ll give you an example. There is a college in New York called City Colleges of New York. And back in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, the City Colleges of New York produced as many Nobel laureates as a lot of Ivy League schools. It was free, but it was considered one of the best universities in the country, one of the best college systems in the country. Nobody thought, well, because you went to the city colleges and it didn’t cost you any money, that somehow the education was devalued.
So the issue is not whether you’re -- how much money you’re paying. The issue is what kind of education is it providing you. And the reputation of the school is going to be determined by, when the graduates come out, do they have the skills they need to do the job. And if they do, then employers are going to know it, because employers are hungry for well-qualified students. I can’t tell you how many businesses I talk to where they say, our biggest problem is we can’t find enough workers who are trained in the fields that we’re searching for. So don’t let anybody think that paying more means a better education.
One thing that we do have to think about -- and this is where community colleges can be an outstanding bridge -- is making sure that we’re reaching out to businesses and finding out what do they need for the positions that they’re hiring, and having those businesses help community colleges design training programs and departments, to serve those needs.
And we’re seeing a lot more work done by community colleges on that front. And Ivy Tech does a great job also with apprenticeships in partnership with labor councils. That’s another example of smart education. It turns out the average apprentice gets a $50,000 starting salary once they get out of apprenticeship -- on average across the country. So we’re doing a lot to encourage schools to expand apprenticeships and partnerships.
But don’t think paying more is better. Paying less is better. (Applause.) I'm always looking for a deal. (Laughter.)
All right, let’s see -- yes, right there.
Q My name is Amy Saxton (ph) and my question is, I pay for my daughter’s college. I'm now saving for my grandchildren’s college with a 529 plan. Do you see any changes that might impact me as I go into retirement?
THE PRESIDENT: We initially looked at changing the 529 plan. And the reason is that -- I have 529s for both Malia and Sasha. For those who aren’t familiar, 529 is basically a savings account that you can put in tax-free up to a certain amount for savings for your child’s college. The problem is when you looked at the statistics, the folks who used the most were folks who were a little more on the high end. A lot of people couldn’t use them because they just weren’t generating enough savings to be able to take advantage of the benefit. And so our thinking was you could save money by eliminating the 529 and shifting it into some other loan programs that would be more broadly based.
But I think enough people -- and we were going to hold harmless folks like you or me who already had money in 529s, so it wasn’t as if suddenly you had to start paying taxes on it. But just going forward we were going to change it.
I’ll be honest with you. There were enough people who already were utilizing 529s that they started feeling as if well, changing like this in midstream, even if I'm not affected right now, I like the program. It wasn’t worth it for us to eliminate it, the savings weren’t that great. So we actually, based on response, changed our mind, and are going to be paying for the two years of free community college with other sources, including some of the tax loopholes that we’re closing. So, short answer to your question is 529s will not change at this point. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Got a gentleman here who really has a question, right here. He was waving and everything. This is going to be a good one.
Q It’s going to be a good one.
THE PRESIDENT: I know that’s right.
Q My names Eddie White with the Indiana Pacers.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, good to talk to you, man. (Laughter.)
Q Basketball is really important in this state. You know, we have this saying, “In 49 states it's just basketball, but this is Indiana.” (Laughter.) Years ago, on a radio show, you told me that -- when I asked you about your game, you said you were “a poor man’s Tayshaun Prince.” Where is your game today? And one more thing -- Tamika Catchings says she’s ready, one-on-one any time you want. (Applause
THE PRESIDENT: All right. Well, let me make a couple of points here. (Laughter.) First of all, I love Tamika. She refereed the game we played in Kokomo, so she was a witness to my domination on the court. (Laughter.) But when it comes to me playing her one-on-one, at this point I’m not sure. Because I’ll be honest with you, my game is a little broke. (Laughter.) I’ve been a little busy. And what happens is that sort of the risk-reward ratio starts shifting. Like the chances of an Achilles tear or an ACL injury is increasing each month. And then the satisfaction I get from playing diminishes because I’m so bad. (Laughter.) And so I think golf. (Laughter.) Likelihood of injury much lower. But I still love the game. I still love the game.
This is a good time for me to give a shout-out to the NBA. Mayor Ballard mentioned the work that he’s doing with My Brother’s Keepers. And this is something that we initiated in response to all the negative news that we were hearing about young African American men and Latino men and their interactions with police. And we said, all right, there are a whole bunch of issues that we have to deal with on the criminal justice side, but we have to have an affirmative agenda to make sure that young people feel hope and opportunity and pathways. (Applause.)
And so the idea of My Brother’s Keepers is that we are working with both the private sector and the public sector, all across the country, on mentorship programs. The Mayor is talking to folks about doing a zero-to-three program, because we know that if you invest early in young people, they are much more likely to succeed in school. We know that there are certain points in time where kids are more likely to drop out, or more likely to get in trouble with the criminal justice system, and so figuring out interventions. We know that if they're reading at grade level in the third grade, then they're much more likely to graduate, so making sure that we're really concentrating on reading skills at that level.
And the interest and involvement has surprised even me. People have been really generous and stepped up to the plate. And the NBA is participating. And some of you who have been watching the games may have seen some of the ads of some of the players talking directly to the TV screen and saying to young people, they matter. And so I just want to commend them for the great work they're doing on that front. Commissioner Silver has been very good on it. So we appreciate it.
All righty, let’s see. Young lady way in the back. Right there. Yes, you. Hold on one second, though. Wait for the mic to come.
Q I want to get this right so I’m going to read it off.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q Hi. My name is Isabelle Keller.
THE PRESIDENT: But you don't have to talk that fast. (Laughter.)
Q Okay, I’ll do it slowly. I’m sorry.
THE PRESIDENT: You're just kind of nervous.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q A little bit.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q My name is Isabelle Keller, and I’m the junior class president at my high school. And I’m co-chairing a bipartisan event at my school next year to help engage high school students in our political process. What advice do you have in helping attract high school students and get them more engaged to work in our country’s politics?
THE PRESIDENT: That's great. See, I love young leaders like this. (Applause.) They're juniors in high school taking an interest. Make sure one of our volunteers gets -- what’s your name again? Isabel? Okay, let’s get Isabelle’s email and maybe I’ll send her a note to kick off the event next year. (Applause.)
One of the big challenges that we have in this country is the lack of civic engagement, the lack of participation. In the last election, only about a third of people who were eligible to vote voted. A third! And you have elections that take place, for example, in Ukraine, where they're in the middle of a war, and their participation rates are 60 percent. And here, with all the blessings that we’ve got, the notion that only a third of us would vote that are eligible doesn't make any sense. And so it starts at a young age.
And I think the most important thing in any bipartisan event like that is to help young people understand that politics is not some sideshow in Washington, it’s not some cable chatter yacking, arguing. It’s how we, together, as a community, make decisions about our priorities -- what do we think is important.
When you’re a junior in high school, if you’re like Malia, if you decide you and your friends are going out, you’ve got to make all kinds of decisions about where we’re going to eat, and what movie do you want to see, and you guys take votes and you’re trying to figure out maybe one of your friends doesn’t have enough money and are we going to chip in to help make sure she can go, too.
Well, the same thing is true for a country. We’ve got to make priorities. We’ve got to make decisions. Are we going to invest in schools? Are we going to make sure that when you graduate you can afford to go to college? Are we going to make sure that we’re investing in the research that creates new medicines that will help cure cancer or Parkinson’s disease? Are we going to make sure that we’re treating our veterans the way they need to be treated when they come home? How are we going to pay for that? Who’s going to pay for that? Are we going to make sure that we’re passing on an environment with clean air and clean water, and how are we going to do that? And how are we going to balance that with making sure that we’re growing an economy, so when you graduate from college there’s a job for you?
Those are all the things that politics determines. So I think, more than anything, helping young people understand that this stuff matters to them and that government is not something separate from you -- it is you. In a democracy, it’s you that makes these decisions.
And then making sure you got good pizza at the event is also important. (Laughter.)
All right. Who’s next? Young man right here. Right here. (Laughter.) Thank you. Thank you.
Q Hi, I am Mark. First, I want to say thank you for all the things you’re doing and the things that you’re going to do for our nation. (Applause.) Secondly, my name is Mark Kelly. I am actually currently the president of (inaudible.) And my question is, what is the criteria and the requirements for this plan that you’re trying to propose?
THE PRESIDENT: For which plan?
Q For two years free college?
THE PRESIDENT: The idea would be that you would have to maintain at least a 2.5 average. (Applause.) So we’re not going to -- I mean, there’s no such thing as a completely free lunch. We want to reward people who are making the effort. Because one of the problems we have when it comes to college education is that young people aren’t graduating fast enough, they’re dragging things out too long, and that just adds costs. And even if they are taking out loans, so it’s technically they’re paying for it, the problem is, is that the more expensive it gets, the less likely it may be that they can pay it back.
So what we’re saying is you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to have a 2.5 average. You’ve got to maintain attendance. You’ve got to stay on a schedule and have a game plan at the front end so that you graduate on time.
And obviously, there would be special circumstances like illness or what have you, but the point is, this is not you get two years of free goofing off. This is to help you achieve your goals. But that means that you have to put in the effort. So that would be the main criteria. (Applause.)
All right. Yes, right here. Hold on a second, mic is coming.
Q My name is Christylee Vickers. I’m an OIF veteran from the U.S. Army, and I’m also the President of the Ivy Tech Collegiate Veterans Organization. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: What branch were you in?
Q I was in the Army and I was a mechanic.
THE PRESIDENT: Army strong!
THE PRESIDENT: All right.
Q Now, my question is, veterans get to use the GI Bill. They also get VOC rehab if they are underemployed, or if they use their GI Bill or if their GI Bill -- if they were a Cold War veteran they never got that. How does this affect a veteran’s use of education? Because veterans today are dealing with unemployment rates higher than other people. They’re dealing with unemployment altogether. And what’s really important is getting a veteran who is dealing with post-traumatic stress or other problems to get an education and have people who understand the fact that they have issues, but at the same time they have benefits that they’ve earned and they’ve paid for through blood and tears?
THE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, first of all, thank you for your service. We’re proud of you. (Applause.) For those who qualify under the post-9/11 GI Bill, you’re already supposed to be getting the benefits that you have earned. And so nothing would change about that program.
As you point out, it’s not just college tuition, though, that is often a burden on our veterans. So I am very proud of the fact that I have increased veterans funding more than any administration since I’ve been in office. (Applause.) And a lot of it is focused on some of the challenges that you talk about.
For example, we made it much easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to qualify under disability claims. We expanded significantly the number of mental health facilities that were available. We set up, for example, special programs for women veterans, because they’ve got different medical needs, through the VA system.
Another example that’s really important is we’ve been working with states and local governments around issues of licensing. So you said you were a mechanic. There may be, in a lot of states, licensing requirements for you to be a mechanic, or to be an EMS officer, or to be a nurse. And what we were finding was, is that -- I still remember I had a conversation with a guy up in Minnesota. This is when I first came into office. We're at a little diner, sitting down. He had just come back from Iraq. He had two or three tours in Iraq. And you can imagine what an emergency medic in Iraq is dealing with in 2006 or 2007. He decided he wanted to make a career as a nurse. He was having to come back and he was having to start with Nursing 101. I mean, he had to start from scratch, as if he didn't have this incredible wealth of experience and skill.
And so we set out to work with state legislators and cities and others that oftentimes are responsible for licensing to say there’s got to be transferability and credit for the incredible work that veterans do on the job so that they don't have to start all over again and take a whole bunch of new classes just to get certified on stuff they already know how to do. (Applause.) And that's been really helpful, as well.
The key now is to get more employers to recognize the skills of our veterans. So Michelle and Jill Biden, through their Joining Forces program, have been able to recruit companies all across the country -- major corporations like Honeywell, smaller companies -- to not just do job fairs, but make concrete commitments we are going to hire a certain number of veterans, a certain number of military spouses. And hundreds of thousands of folks have come through these programs.
The challenge that we’ve still got is that we’ve got to find ways for veterans to upgrade their skills through this process. And that's where things like apprenticeships -- so that folks aren’t just getting hired at the bottom rungs, but have the opportunity to maybe come in at a higher wage and a higher salary. So we’ve got tie together the education process with the hiring process.
Q Can I add to that?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q In Indiana, there’s a bill currently in the House and the Senate that is trying to give the private sector military hiring preference, like the government does. Within the government, you have a point system being a veteran, for serving, for having a disability rating, for being a spouse, and so on. And in Indiana, they’re trying to pass this bill to give hiring preference, saying if you and a veteran have the same qualifications, veterans should get the job. I feel like that is somewhat fair because they put their life on hold for two to 20 years to serve our country, and they’re taking this job experience that you’ve acknowledged, and they’re taking that real-world and they’re the fact that they always show up to work on time, they’ll pass a drug test. And they’re willing to put in that extra mile. Do you agree with that bill that’s trying to get passed?
THE PRESIDENT: I am always careful about agreeing with bills that I have not read because that's how I get into trouble. (Laughter.) But if there are any state legislators here, this young lady is going to be very interested in talking to you. And the --
Q (Inaudible) we just passed that bill out of the Senate Committee this past week.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there you go. (Applause.) See, so -- that's your representatives and senators hard at work. (Laughter.)
But I think the basic concept of making sure that we are crediting the work that is done by veterans is really important. The sacrifices that not just veterans but their families make are incredible.
And I’m proud to say that we do much better now than we did in the past. When you read about the Vietnam era, it’s just heartbreaking how veterans were treated when they came home. I think we, as a society -- and this has been bipartisan -- have really improved, but we still have a lot more work to do. So the veterans’ health system, for example, is far better now than it was 30 years ago, or 20 years ago -- demonstrably better.
But as we saw -- remember in Phoenix, there are still situations where the wait times are too long. Veterans are really satisfied once they get in the system, but getting the initial appointment is often too tough. There’s too much bureaucracy. There’s too much red tape. So we have to just constantly keep at this and constantly keep improving it.
And as we end -- we’ve now ended both the Iraq War and the Afghan War, we got millions of people -- (applause) -- in terms of the combat role, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of folks who are coming home, and they're going to need help making this transition. And obviously we still have folks in harm’s way now dealing with ISIL, as well as helping to train both Iraqi and Afghan armies. And they're going to need help, as well. They're still on rotations. Their families are still missing them, and they're missing birthdays and soccer games. And it’s a big sacrifice.
So thanks for the question and thanks for your service.
All right, we got a gentleman? Let’s see. This is a good bunch to choose from. He’s got a veteran’s -- he’s got a veteran’s hat on, which makes me more biased towards him. (Laughter.) This is an example of your -- but are you going to ask another veteran’s question?
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, right here.
Q Mr. President, thank you for coming and thanks for taking my question. I am Chris Bowen. I’m the student government president here, so I represent the students here in the central region of Indiana for Ivy Tech.
THE PRESIDENT: That's great.
Q And something we could use right away is a tax credit for books. The costs on the books are just running away. We need somebody to do -- some help in that area, and then the same thing with advisors. We really need some advisors that know the classes that we need to look at the skills that we already have in our life and say, hey, have you thought about looking at an approach in a different way. And so we really need some help from the federal government in those areas.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that's a great point. First of all, I should have mentioned at the outset, when Michelle and I got out -- when we got married, in addition to the bonds of love, we had the bonds of debt. (Laughter.) Our net worth was negative because we had all these student loans. And basically for the first 10 years of our marriage, we paid more in student loan repayment than we did on our mortgage.
And since we both went to law school, we both remember well the cost of books. And for those -- and then I taught in the law school, so I remember having to assign books. I actually cheated a little bit and put together these syllabi where I’d Xerox stuff off, and they could get a packet, and it was a lot cheaper for folks. (Applause.) But that's not always possible. (Laughter.)
But I will say, nothing is worse than when a professor assigns their own book. (Laughter.) Because then you know they're getting over. (Laughter.) But the book costs are enormous. They're real.
Now, one of the advantages of the two year of free college tuition plan -- that doesn't include room and board and books -- but what that does then is it frees up your ability to use Pell grants or other programs for books, right? So it would relieve some of those costs and living expenses and transportation and all that stuff. So school still wouldn’t be perfectly free, but you would now have the budget to manage that.
With respect to advisors, I think this is a great point. We're actually starting at the high school level. Michelle just had an event to celebrate counselors. And she had -- Connie Britton, remember she played a counselor in “Friday Night Lights”? You all watch that show? That was a good show. (Laughter.) So she came to speak, but it was celebrating the role of counselors in high schools.
But the same is true in community colleges with advisors. A lot of young people have a general idea of what they want to do, but don't always know the path to get there, don't know what the requirements are, don't know what classes they should be taking. And one of the big problems that drives up college costs is young people start down one path, they get about halfway through it, they realize, actually that's the thing I’m more interested in over there. They switch, but all those credits that they took now are wasted. And they’ve got to start all over again. And that extends greatly the amount of time that it takes to graduate. So having more counselors and investors on the front end, end up being a good investment for the system overall.
Now, I haven’t talked to your president here about how schools are currently budgeting advisors, but certainly this is something that we are interested in. And we're going to want to partner with community colleges and public universities, as well as with high schools to see what more work we can do on that front. So good suggestions. That's why you got elected president. (Applause.) Absolutely.
It’s a young lady’s turn. Right here. Right in the middle. You, yes.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. My name is Dana Phillips with (inaudible) Lee & Fairman. And my question is, with the focus being on two-year community colleges right now, what focus does your administration have for historically black colleges and universities for students outside of Indiana, where they may choose to attend these institutions with such dire straits that many of them are facing right now?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have some outstanding historically black colleges and universities. We’ve got some universities that historically serve primarily Latino students, who do a great job as well. Many of those schools, because of their critical role in serving underrepresented communities, under federal legislation get additional dollars to help with infrastructure and maintain their faculties and so forth.
But many of the problems that those schools face are also the ones that every other school faces, which is rising tuition, students taking out too much debt, graduation rates that are too low. And so we’re working with them on this common set of problems.
Now, I will say this: There are some historically black colleges and universities that are not doing a good job with graduation rates. And so one of the things that we’re doing is we’re saying to schools of all stripes that we’re going to develop some measures so that parents and students can know ahead of time how those schools are performing so that we can increase consumer education. Because what I don’t want to do is to have the federal government pay for a Pell grant or a student loan, and you go to a school where they’re taking that money, you’re getting into debt, but your graduation rate is low -- which means you may end up leaving without a degree. You now are on the hook for this debt; if you can’t pay it, then taxpayers have to pay for it. That’s a problem.
So what we’re doing is, those schools that are doing outstanding jobs serving underrepresented communities, we’re going to give them some extra help. Schools that are not doing a good job, we’re saying to them we’re going to give you the training to get better, but at a certain point, if you don’t get better, we’re going to start advertising the fact that your graduation rates are too low. We’ve got to have some accountability in this overall process.
Gentleman right here. There you go -- in that spiffy gray jacket.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Frank Short (ph). I have a question. You’ve been our leader for six years, you have two years left. What you be your number-one priority, and what could we, as hardworking Hoosiers, help you to do to accomplish that?
THE PRESIDENT: My number-one priority is to make sure that the American people’s wages and incomes are going up -- since right now the stock market has gone up, corporate profits are at an all-time high, corporate balance sheets have never been better in history -- that’s not according to me, that’s according to Bloomberg and Fortune Magazine, not publications that generally are my big promoters. (Laughter.)
So they’re going well. And the question now is, how do the folks who work in those companies, how do we get them more income and more wages. Now, that can’t happen if the economy doesn’t grow. So first and foremost, we’ve got to keep this growth going. And one of the worries that we’re going to have this year -- the economy is doing well. The problem is, overseas, the economies aren’t doing so well. Europe is not doing well. China is slowing down because they’re transitioning, and so that’s having some impact on our exports.
So if we want to keep the progress that’s going on right now, the best thing we can do is to make the investments that I talked about in the State of the Union to create more growth and more demand here in the United States.
I’ll be very specific. This is something that you can help on: Infrastructure. We know that we’ve got about $2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance we need to do in this country -- bridges that are unsafe, sewer mains that are bursting, airports that are out of date. We’ve got an air traffic control system that doesn’t take advantage of new technologies. If we put in place a new state-of-the-art air traffic control system, it’s estimated that airlines could save 30 percent on their fuel costs because they wouldn’t be hovering around trying to wait to land. That means 30 percent less pollution from fuel. It means we could cut delays by about 30 percent, which I know everybody here who has flown lately would really appreciate. It would be good for business.
And the good thing about infrastructure is you can’t export those jobs. They have to be done here by American workers. And so then those American workers have more money in their pocket, and then they go the restaurant nearby, and then suddenly the restaurant is doing a little bit better, so they hire a couple more shifts -- and you get this virtuous cycle.
And traditionally, that’s been a bipartisan issue. So if we can get Republican representatives and senators and Democratic representatives and senators here Indiana, if you guys can push them to say, let’s go ahead and move forward on an infrastructure program -- I know the Mayor wouldn’t mind doing it -- and convince them, that keeps the economy growing overall.
But then there are also some things that I want to do more directly for middle-class families, and that has to do with this tax system. As I mentioned before, there was a young woman I talked about at the State of the Union -- wonderful family, the Erlers, two little boys; one of them school age, one of them is still too young and in preschool. Their child care is more than tuition at the University of Minnesota -- or at least close.
We are the only advanced nation on Earth that does not provide support to families when their kids are really young, and doesn’t invest in making sure that our child care system works the way it should. So I’ve put forward an initiative that says let’s consolidate and make more helpful a tax credit for child care. Let’s boost the quality of child care so that parents have confidence when they’re putting their kids someplace that teachers there are trained and they’re getting good early childhood education. Let’s get more slots. That’s something that is just concretely helping families right now.
And, by the way, it’s not just the poor family that has trouble here. There are a lot of folks who we’d all consider middle class who have the same problem. I mean, it’s just hard, especially now that the typical middle-class family, they’ve got two breadwinners. Folks both have to work in order to succeed.
And we know how to do this. My grandfather, when he went away to war, fighting Patton’s Army in Europe, my grandmother stayed home; she was Rosie the Riveter. She was working on an assembly line for bombers, and this country provided child care because they knew it was a necessity. If you were going to have women working in the workforce, somebody had to look after those kids. So it’s not as if we don’t have any experience doing this. We just don’t do a good job.
Paid sick leave -- here’s another good example. We’ve got 43 million Americans who don’t have paid sick leave. Think about that. Again, we’re like the only country in the industrialized world that does not provide paid sick leave. Well, that’s money out of people’s pockets. People will get sick. And the idea that in a society like ours we would force people to choose between leaving a sick child at home, for example, of giving up a day’s pay, that doesn’t make any sense.
So the way Hoosiers can help, the way folks all across America can help is to let your members of Congress know these things are important.
And if, as I said before, Republicans in Congress -- Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and the leadership there -- if they disagree with how I’m paying for a bigger child care tax credit, if they disagree with how I plan to pay for infrastructure, if they don’t want to raise -- or close loopholes on the top 1 percent, or go after some of these loopholes that send profits overseas -- if they don’t want to do it that way, then they should show me another way.
But your voice letting them know this is important -- not because it’s partisan, but because it’s the right thing to do for America. If they hear that from enough people, then that’s going to make a difference.
But it goes back to what that young lady asked me about -- Isabelle, right? See, I’ve got a good memory. I’m not getting too old. (Laughter.) It goes back to what Isabelle was saying -- our system only works when people are involved. When people are involved and informed and taking the time to ask questions and let their opinions be known, then ultimately the government will respond. But if only a third of the people are saying anything, the government doesn’t respond, and you get the government that we’ve seen in Washington lately -- which is unresponsive and is not doing enough.
So people have to get involved, and you’ve got to be informed. And if we are, then I am so optimistic about this country. The reason we’ve gotten out of this recession over the last six years is in part -- I’m going to go ahead and brag a little bit -- we made some good decisions. (Applause.) We made the decision to save the auto industry. We made the decision to stabilize the financial system. We made the decision to help local governments keep their teachers on the payroll and not lay them off. We made a bunch of decisions to do infrastructure Awere in.
But the main reason was because people worked hard in the private sector and small businesses, and they tightened their belts and they made sacrifices, and they paid down debt and they dug themselves out of holes. The resilience and the grit and the basic decency of the American people and our willingness to work hard and our innovation, our willingness to take risks -- it puts us in such a good position.
I travel all around the world. I know the economies of every country in the world. I know their problems, I know their advantages. People talk about China and they talk about Germany and they talk about India -- nobody has got better cards than we do if we make good decisions together. And somebody once said about America, we always end up doing the right thing after we’ve tried everything else. (Laughter.) And I’m hoping that we don’t have to try every other thing before we do the right thing right now to help middle-class families get ahead.
If we do that, the economy is going to be stronger, businesses are going to do better, consumers are going to be more confident, we’ll sell more good overseas, our kids will have the kind of future we want for them. That’s what I’m going to be working on for the next two years. I hope you help.
Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)
3:43 P.M. EST