State of the student: What Obama’s speech means for us

Last Wednesday, as I was pouring myself a tall, pre-State of the Union club soda and lime, I wished that, just once, a sitting president would begin his annual address to their nation of constituents, especially in times as turbulent as these, with a po-faced “The state of the union is…SUCKY.” However, in lieu of that improbable fever dream of political suicide/awesomeness, I’ll accept something more along the lines of what we got from President Obama. And say what you will about the man and his politics, but it’s nice to once again have a president who can not only deliver a speech, but correctly pronounce the words it contains (and, presumably, define them).

It’s difficult to say just how much the points he covered will directly affect UVU students and our community at large, let alone the nation as a whole. $30 billion coming from recovered Troubled Assets Relief Program funds are going to be used “to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.” For UVU students, this could mean increased local employment opportunities in the private sector; if small businesses are doing well, they’ll surely need qualified employees for whatever positions these funds can potentially create. And what help is cheaper and better than hungry college students?

More directly to us, Obama spoke of making “college more affordable,” and specifically name-dropped community colleges as the beneficiaries of additional aid. Maybe we should’ve held off becoming a university for some of that sweet federal stimulus cash! He said he’s going to get rid of “taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for students loans,” passing on that cash in the form of a $10,000 tax cut for families paying for school and an increase in the amount of Pell Grants. He also said that, upon graduation, students won’t have to pay more than 10 percent of their income toward their student loan debts.

A lot of this is terrific news. Most students need help even in the best economy, and between constantly increasing tuition, a shoddy job market, and mounting piles of debt, it can be hard to keep your head above water.

Obama’s plans are well and good, and assuming we can take him at his word (never something you should do with a politician, regardless of their side of the aisle), a lot of students that need a helping hand will get it. But there’s still a great deal of students caught between the rock-and-a-hard-place of having wealthy parents who don’t contribute to their education. These are unmarried students between 18-23 years old who aren’t able to fill out their FAFSA without parental assistance because they are arbitrarily considered to be dependents of their parents. There is an appeals process that allows you to try and get independent status and be judged on your own income, but it’s more of a labyrinth than anything David Bowie has ever seen.

It’s great that Obama is trying to extend a hand to those in need, and he should be applauded for trying to look out for those willing and able to work hard to get them on the first step to a better socioeconomic position. But that’s precisely what this is: a first step. Perhaps next year, we’ll all find ourselves a little farther down the path.

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