WILKES-BARRE — Bradley George and Shauna Fahad strolled across Public Square Saturday afternoon, both 18, both enjoying the summer sunshine and both about to begin their college education at King’s College.
Neither had actually heard President Barack Obama’s Friday afternoon speech in Scranton about proposed higher-education reforms. But like many young Americans, both hold strong views about college funding and the future of academic institutions.
“If Obama is going to try to do anything with education in Pennsylvania, he needs to talk to (Republican Gov. Tom) Corbett first, because he recently cut educating funding,” said George, a Hanover Area graduate who plans to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering and had read newspaper coverage of the president’s plans.
Obama’s plan would tie financial aid to college performance, using a new rating system intended to ensure that students attending high-performing colleges could receive larger Pell Grants and more affordable student loans. The idea is to encourage colleges to enroll and graduate more low- and moderate-income students.
The president also wants to ease the burden of federal student loan debt on graduates by allowing all borrowers to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly incomes.
Fahad, a Scranton resident who plans to study international business at King’s, admitted she is not Obama’s “biggest fan” and questioned whether his proposals adequately take into consideration the real needs of students, educators and colleges.
“I think he should talk with the general population, and talk to teachers and people in the education system who have a clue what they are doing,” Fahad said.
George and Fahad acknowledged that the cost of education can be a burden. Fahad pointed out that many options already exist to help ease that burden, such as scholarships and other aid, some of which she herself is taking advantage.
Wilkes University sophomore Collin Strunk said he watched some of the president’s speech on television and was familiar with the main points of Obama’s proposal. “I think it would be awesome if we were able to see lower tuition,” said Strunk, who especially appreciated Obama’s ideas about pegging school aid to performance.
During his speech, Obama said: “Right now a lot of these rating systems are based on how selective the school is, how expensive the school is, how nice the dorm rooms are. What I want is for us to measure the kind of value they’re giving students and their families, and are they providing the opportunity that we should be providing.”
That resonated with Strunk, a pharmacy student from Blakeslee.
“I’d rather spend my money on something worthwhile, not just have a system where people say, ‘I went to Brown (University) and I paid this much,’” Strunk said, referring to the value often attached to holding a degree from Ivy League schools and other expensive, big-name institutions.
Angie Baloga of Wilkes-Barre, a Penn State graduate, felt the president should focus more on the challenging job market facing newly minted college graduates.
“I don’t understand why Obama is spending so much time, money and effort on the education issue when people like myself with a college education and countless other college graduates that I know can’t even find a job,” Baloga, 25, said in an email. “He should focus more on getting jobs in our country so the people that pay so much money for their education can pay back student loans with a good job.”