During a conference call Monday with college and university journalists, President Obama reviewed some familiar policies his administration has offered to make higher education more affordable: changing the structure of federal student loans, tripling investment in college tax credits and increasing Pell Grant awards.
But he raised a new objection to another culprit of high tuition costs: amenities.
"You're not going to a university to join a spa; you're going there to learn so that you can have a fulfilling career," Obama said in response to a question about rising tuition in public universities. "And if all the amenities of a public university start jacking up the cost of tuition significantly, that's a problem."
Obama mentioned that when he was in college, athletic facilities and food courts weren't nearly as nice as they are today. And the sad reality is that students have come to expect these sorts of amenities and a college that doesn't offer them will risk losing applicants, and therefore tuition dollars. But given that the purpose of the call was to help motivate the millennials who helped make him president in 2008, the message might not sit so well. These students are already looking at a horizon of dismal job prospects upon graduation that pay so little they most certainly won't be able to afford the state-of-the-art gym and sushi bar they enjoyed in college.
It wasn't all rants about Olympic-sized swimming pools and beer. The president acknowledged the challenges this generation faces and said improving the economy would remain his top priority, which would in turn help public colleges collect tax revenues to keep tuition down and help students get jobs.
"If the economy is growing, if we're investing in small businesses so they can open their doors and hire more workers, if we're helping large businesses in terms of plants and equipment -- a lot of the initiatives that I've put in place already -- if we're building infrastructure -- not just roads and bridges but also broadband lines -- if we're investing in clean energy -- all those things are going to open up new opportunities for young people with skills and talent for the future," he said.