President Barack Obama used his commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute Friday to resurface his proposal to make all community colleges in the United States free.
“I believe that in a fast-paced, hyper-connected, constantly changing world, there are few institutions that are more important to America’s economic future than community colleges,” Obama said, explaining why he chose to visit the school.
Lake Area Tech is a two-year community college in Watertown, S.D. (Obama’s appearance in South Dakota means that he has officially visited all 50 states as president.)
During his speech, the president cited two young entrepreneurs who plan to pursue their own businesses now that they have gradated.
Colin Blume, 20, has run a manufacturing company since he was 16. At that time, he created a new type of grain handling cage, which he patented when he was 18. He earned an agriculture production degree from Lake Area Tech.
Maysa Hackens has only partial vision in one eye and is blind in the other. But she loves photography. She graduated with an associate degree in business, and started a company called How Eye See It Photography.
“All of us are better off when our businesses have access to the best-trained workers in the world,” Obama said. “All of us are better off when entrepreneurs like Colin and Maysa can boost their hometown economies, make it more attractive for young people to stay.”
Obama commended the politicians who have already made efforts to make higher education more affordable. He said that in a typically divided government, expanding access to education is a relatively non-partisan issue.
“From the Republican governor of Tennessee to the Democratic mayor of Chicago, leaders across our country are laying out plans to put a college education within reach for everybody,” he said.
But, just has he did during this year’s State of the Union Address, Obama proposed that lawmakers go further and lower the cost of a two-year community college degree to $0.
“We live in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge and innovation like never before,” Obama said. “So as a country we can’t afford to let any striving American be priced out of the education they need to get ahead.”