August 29, 2013

Obama Speech Details Plan for Making Higher Education Affordable

President Obama at podium

President Barack Obama speaks at University at Buffalo on Aug. 22, 2013. (Photo/Vanessa Rehac)

(BUFFALO, N.Y. - Aug. 29, 2013) “The entire experience was awe-inspiring,” was how Rhianna Rogers, assistant professor of cultural studies, summed up her experience and the experience of many others attending President Barack Obama’s speech at the University at Buffalo on Aug. 22, 2013. She was accompanied by five SUNY Empire State College students and four Empire State College staff members.‌

"It was a wonderful opportunity for our faculty, staff and most importantly our students," noted Merodie Hancock, president of Empire State College. "We thank President Tripathi for extending an invitation to allow us to be part of this historical day; one that our students, faculty and staff will not soon forget."

Most of the students attending the speech were part of Empire State College’s College Achievement Requires Engaged Students (CARES) group that is made up of students in the Buffalo region who are committed to “creating and sustaining a variety of educational and cultural experiences that encourage student community.”

photo of Iris Rivera, Vanessa Rehac and Charlesetta Magby-Peace ESC students from the NFC

Empire State College students Iris Rivera, Vanessa Rehac and Charlesetta Magby-Peace. (Photo/Vanessa Rehac)

Vanessa Rehac a cultural studies student and a CARES officer, noted, “I was glad to share the experience with two of my classmates from CARES … it was nice to sit with other students and discuss points and topics.” This was a moment that Rehac will treasure, much like her mother did when she saw President Kennedy. “I remember my mom telling me stories of seeing Kennedy speak and it was an experience she treasured,” says Rehac, office manager of the Southtown Teachers’ Center. She is also an avid photographer and her photos of the event can be seen here.

Obama’s main topic for his speech was about making higher education affordable. As Politico noted, “when Obama wants to talk about college costs, he often turns to SUNY.” As part of his comprehensive plan, he specifically cites Open SUNY as a model of using technology to redesign courses. As noted in the past, Empire State College is a major part of Open SUNY.

Other parts of the president’s plan include:

  • creation of a new rating system for colleges in which they would be evaluated based on various outcomes (such as graduation rates and graduate earnings), on affordability and on access (measures such as the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants)
  • linking student aid to these ratings, such that students who enroll at high performing colleges would receive larger Pell Grants and more favorable rates on student loans
  • creation of a new program that would give colleges a "bonus" if they enroll large numbers of students eligible for Pell Grants
  • toughing requirements on students receiving aid. For example, the president said that these rules might require completion of a certain percentage of classes to continue receiving aid.

Iris Rivera, of Amherst, N.Y., and a cultural studies student at the college, heard the president’s message loud and clear and noted “by adopting such measures perhaps more students will be able to get a good education without the fear of knowing that they have to pay student loans for a good portion of their lives.”

Rogers, who is the faculty advisor of CARES, was excited to share her experience with her students, “It made me happy to see involved students have the opportunity to attend such a wonderful, once- in-a-life time, event.”

President Obama on overhead display

President Obama as seen on overhead display at Alumni Arena, University at Buffalo on Aug. 22, 2013. (Photo/Vanessa Rehac)

‌Debbi Davis, of Buffalo and a business studies student, shared the sentiment of many attending the president’s speech, “I'll always remember feeling totally overwhelmed and caught up in the moment … and it felt good, even more so for me, because, for a few hours, I was part of a historical moment. I was actually in the room with the president of the United States … the first black president. I couldn't have been any prouder. Change takes time, and this was a major one. For it to happen in my lifetime is absolutely beyond awesome, inspiring and amazing.”


Media contact: David Henahan, director of communications
518-587-2100, ext. 2918
518-321-7038, cell