Challenge from the White House

Katherine Taylor

For those of you who were too busy with the start of school to watch President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address this week, don’t worry, he did more than repeatedly remind us that Osama Bin Laden was dead. Education was mentioned, too.

Obama called the high cost of college “the most daunting challenge” facing high school graduates. He continued to address the importance of this issue by pointing out that “Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt.”

We often hear about the importance of going to college to find a job and start a career, but how are students supposed to focus on finding jobs in an uncertain economy when they are overwhelmed by student loan debt? It’s not fair that higher education, which is supposed to help our futures, costs so much now that degrees leave graduates overrun with debt.

The president offered clear ways to fight the problem of skyrocketing college tuition. Given that UT President William Powers Jr. recently approved yet another tuition increase here at UT, this issue is especially pertinent to our campus.

Obama had a clear message for universities, including ours: “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding that you get from taxpayers will go down.”

Since the state Legislature continues to decrease the amount of funding it gives to UT — down 13.5 percent from 2011 to 2012 alone — the University has had to rely more on federal funding. After Obama passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, federal funds were used as a part of the University’s operating budget for the first time, according to UT’s Budget Office. In his 2010 State of the University Address, Powers said that UT is “second only to MIT in external research funding among universities without a medical school,” and a large part of that funding comes from the government.

Finally, UT received more than $330 million for federally sponsored programs in the 2012 budget and will undoubtedly receive millions more in research grants as well.

Obviously, our University receives substantial federal support. Now, if Powers and the rest of the key tuition players can’t find ways to keep tuition down, it seems that students’ well-being will be jeopardized even more.

Federal programs such as work study, Pell Grants and research opportunities are all potential targets that could be hit with cutbacks if Obama follows through with his threat to reduce federal support.

If the University’s tuition advisory committee, Powers and the Board of Regents continue to resort to tuition increases, they may face harsher consequences. More than sparking protests, they have the potential of making college inaccessible to thousands of students and losing millions in research grants and general operating funds.

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.