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Obama at Ivy Tech: U.S. must 'be creative' to help students reach college

President Barack Obama urged a focus on training America’s future workforce by investing in younger students and reducing college costs at a speech today in Indianapolis at Ivy Tech Community College, the nation’s largest state community college system.

Obama touted his plan to offer two years of free community college to all students, first proposed in last month’s State of the Union address, as a key part of improving the economy for middle class. Obama’s stop in Indiana is one of a series of recent appearances for the president in Republican-led states like Idaho and Kansas.

“Here in America, it shouldn’t matter how much money your folks make,” Obama said. “You shouldn’t have $100,000 worth of debt when you leave (college), especially if you’re going to go into a profession like teaching.”

He also urged the nation’s state education leaders, from K-12 education to higher education, to work together to provide new, low-cost opportunities for students to earn credentials so they can enter the workforce earlier and earn higher wages.

“We have this very rigid system,” Obama said. “You go through high school, and right away you go to a four-year university. How do we create — from the time you are in ninth grade all the way until the time you’ve got a job — how do we make sure you’re going to get the best skills possible at the lowest cost? We have to be much more creative about these issues.”

Indiana state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the only Democrat serving in statewide office, said she shared Obama’s desire to help “cash strapped” high school graduates and other adults afford college. She said students need to start preparing in high school for their next steps in life, and gain practical experience even before entering college to make sure they take advantage of their time and money.

That was her own story, Ritz said.

“I grew up in a family that had no money to send me to college,” she said. “I worked two to three jobs every summer. The minimum wage doesn’t do what it needs to do to get (today’s kids) through college. We’ve got to find ways to support our kids to ensure they get that training. I consider high school the beginning part of building a resume.”

The president urged colleges to work with high schools, businesses and government leaders to change the system. He thanked Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard for working with him on the president’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which includes plans to reduce dropout rates and improve low-performing schools.

Obama also stressed the importance of literacy and intervening early with struggling students to make sure more students are eligible for college.

Gov. Mike Pence, who greeted Obama at the Indianapolis International Airport when he arrived, said in a statement that states should take the lead on making college more affordable. He also said high schools need to do a better job getting students ready to be successful after they graduate.

“The best way to increase graduation rates is to make sure that our students are academically prepared for college and that colleges and universities encourage students to graduate on time with the least expense to them and their families,” he said.

Since Republicans control both houses of Congress, Obama’s plan could be in doubt. But Obama, who presented his budget plan to Congress earlier this week, urged Republican leaders not to block his plans simply because they can.

“If Republicans disagree with the way I’m trying to solve these problems, they should put forward their own plans,” Obama said.

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