Professors Discuss Obama's State of the Union Address
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night discussed issues of concern at Harvard, including the rising cost of college tuition nationwide and challenges faced by undocumented students.
Harvard offers its students robust financial aid, and University President Drew G. Faust has been vocal in her support for the DREAM Act, which would help undocumented students gain citizenship upon successful completion of part of their higher education.
Last night, Obama earmarked those issues—especially tuition—as problems faced by the nation’s youth.
“When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college,” Obama said in his address before Congress.
While Obama proposed measures to aid students facing rising tuition costs, Harvard Kennedy School professor Joshua S. Goodman, an education policy expert, said Harvard students would likely remain largely unaffected given the College’s generous existing financial aid program.
“Harvard is a funny example of a university that charges wealthy applicants in full and then turns around and uses that money to fund lower income applicants,” Goodman said.
Harvard’s financial aid program is often praised as one of the best in the country, covering the full cost of tuition for students whose families earn less than $65,000 a year. About 60 percent of Harvard students receive need-based financial aid.
But with students pursuing college educations at institutions nationwide in mind, Harvard professors expressed support for Obama’s push to expand federal support.
“I think the question of education is important to the future of the country as well as to addressing widespread inequality,” said Graduate School of Education professor Mark R. Warren. “It’s vital to any hope of rebuilding the middle class.”
Obama also spoke in support of enabling undocumented students to pursue college degrees—a reference to the DREAM Act in content but not in name.
“Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: the fact that they aren’t yet American citizens,” Obama said. “Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.”
In 2009, Faust publicly affirmed Harvard’s support of the DREAM Act, which, if passed, would grant conditional permanent residency to undocumented students who came to the United States before the age of 16, under the condition that they graduate from high school and complete either two years of higher education or two years of military service.
According to Kevin Casey, a Harvard lobbyist in Washington, the University continues to support the bill and is working with members of Congress to pass the legislation.
Government and sociology professor Theda R. Skocpol, who praised Obama for the “strength and determination” he displayed during the speech, said the issue of immigration allowed the president to draw a contrast between his party and the Republicans during an election year.
“The Tea Party has pressured the Republican Party to take a brutally hard line on immigration policies,” Skocpol said. “That’s a place where Democrats and Republicans differ, and people should know that when they go to the voting booth.”
—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at email@example.com.