President Obama brought his message of affordable education for the middle class to Syracuse yesterday. It was an intimate atmosphere inside the gym at Henninger High School, with the crowd interacting with the president as he laid the groundwork for his plan.
"There aren't a lot of things that are more important than making sure people get a good education," Obama said. "That is key to upward mobility. That is key to a growing economy. That is key to a strong middle class."
The crowd then started calling out and shouting to him.
"Love you back."
In the confines of the Henninger High School gym, he outlined a three-point plan aimed at getting more students to finish college without colossal debt. First, it would make colleges more accountable.
"I'm directing my administration to come up with a new rating system for colleges that will score colleges on opportunity," Obama explained. "Whether they're helping students from all kinds of backgrounds succeed. And on outcomes, whether students are graduating with manageable debt. Whether they're graduating in the first place."
The president laid out plans that would make colleges and universities more accountable by ranking them according to a number of criteria. He also encouraged colleges to embrace innovation, and help students manage debt. Some of these things can be done with executive order and others through Congress. Syracuse area Congressman Dan Maffei is optimistic education initiatives can make it through an often contentious Congress.
"This was the one area where we were able to get a bipartisan deal done this summer," Maffei said. "Now look, it was just on keeping student loan rates from going up, but I know a lot of republicans we can work with on this."
Reaction to the plan from the crowd? Syracuse City School District Superintendent Sharon Contreras says the timing was perfect.
"It was so motivational as a back to school speech," Contreras said. "I couldn't have done anything to motivate the students more."
For Latrina Brumfield of Syracuse, Obama brought hope as she and her husband contemplate sending three children to college, while living the college debt crisis themselves.
We owe over $150,000 in student loans," Brumfield said. "I'm a teacher and he's a community aide, so we don't make $150,000 a year, so it was very motivational.
Obama continues his education message across New York State today with a stop in Binghamton. He'll also make a stop in Scranton, Pa.