Obama outlines higher education initiatives in State of the Union address

President Barack Obama called for increased public investment in higher education during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, laying out themes he is expected to elaborate on Thursday when he visits Kansas University.

Among other things, he called for offering two free years of community college for qualifying students; expanding tax credits for college tuition; and reducing monthly payments on existing student loan debt.

“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education,” Obama said. “And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need.”

Those initiatives will be part of the budget proposal the White House sends to Congress for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Obama will hit the road starting Wednesday to drum up both public and congressional support for the proposals he laid out Tuesday, including stops in traditionally Republican states. He will speak Wednesday in Boise, Idaho, before traveling to Lawrence for an 11:20 a.m. speech at Anschutz Sports Pavilion on the KU campus.

Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who represents the 2nd District that includes Lawrence, was harshly critical of the president’s higher education plan, in part because Obama is also calling for taxing certain kinds of college savings plans.

“The President referred to 529 college savings plans as an ‘Upside-Down Education Savings Incentive,’ said Jenkins, referring to a statement the president made before Tuesday’s speech.

“The truth is that his new proposal would remove the incentive for families to provide for themselves, and to instead rely on taxpayer funded education is what is upside-down,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, which deals with tax issues. She is also a former State Treasurer who helped set up Kansas’ 592 savings plan known as Learning Quest.

Obama will be speaking in one of only two Kansas counties he carried in both the 2008 and 2012 elections.

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