Opinion

What the 2012 State of the Union Address Means for Students

beckCollege just may become more affordable and less of a hassle for graduate students concerned with paying back their loans. For those who watched President Obama's State of the Union Address last Tuesday, Obama proposed a number of ideas that could help college students breathe easier. He said that he intends to find ways to extend tuition tax credit, keep student interest rates from rising, and keep tuition down. However, while the ideas may seem attainable, they were only suggestions and ideas with no specific plans to carry them through.
Dr. Michael Phillips-Anderson, an Assistant Professor of Applied Communication, expressed concern over how Obama's plan for the economy may affect future University graduates. "There really isn't that much the President can do to affect the economy. Interest rates are at historic lows, but businesses aren't borrowing. The President did not call for large scale stimulus spending which is what economists like Paul Krugman have argued is
the fastest way to get the economy growing," Phillips-Anderson said. In regards to interest rates on student loans, Obama highlighted that they are set to double in July unless Congress acts against it.

According to Claire Alasio, the Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and the Director of Financial Aid, the interest rates on student loans are what lenders charge students to use their money. If Congress were to stop the interest rates from doubling in July, however, it would not affect graduating students, as this plan seeks to help students set to take out loans for the 2012-2013 academic year. In order to make this plan work, Congress must pass a bill and find funding to replace the money they will lose from decreasing interest rates.

"If the government is planning on millions of students retaining their loan at 6.8 percent, that is going to make a certain amount of money for the government. If someone decides to charge students only 3.4 percent, while that's great for the students, someone is going to have to make up for the money that they are going to lose," Alasio said.
"Low interest rates are good for students, but the President and the Congress are failing to go far enough to bring back Pell Grants and help with loan forgiveness for those who have already graduated," Phillips-Anderson added.
Although paying off student loans is a significant factor in the life of a student who has recently graduated, a top priority would be finding a job in order to repay their loans. Finding a job directly out of college, however, is widely debated amongst students and faculty, despite Obama's positive
outlook for the economy.

"As interest rates jump, it becomes more and more difficult for students to repay their loans. If students can't repay their loans, the government isn't going to get any money. Would you rather have less money or zero money?" Alasio said.

"There are certain elements that will get through, but it is a modest plan that will, at best, likely produce modest results," Phillips-Anderson said. "For our graduates to find success in the job market, they need to be willing to relocate out of New Jersey and leverage their skills into
fields they may not have considered previously."

Thomas Campora, a biology and education major, is not confident in the plan for the economy. "The prospects for finding a job right out of college for most will be bleak considering the fiscal state the country and world is in," Campora said. "It will depend heavily on what field of study the student chose. Fields of study which focus on more practical and industrial career elements (like science, medical, engineering, trade skills, etc.) will fare better, but perhaps marginally so until conditions are changed which will allow the economy to grow."

Daniel Fitzpatrick, an English and education major, however, is more optimistic. "It is most certainly possible to get a job outside of MU with a degree. There have been depressions and recessions before and the key to getting a job during those times was to think outside of the box. A piece
of paper, a degree, alone will not get you a job," Fitzpatrick said. "Diligence is the key and that is how anyone is going to get a job outside of college. Is it easy? No. Possible? Anything is."

Dr. Benedicte Reyes is an Associate Professor of Finance and Chair of the Department of Economics, Finance and Real Estate. She said that graduates, particularly those in the field of finance, have a good chance of finding a job after college. For other fields, however, she pointed out the possibility that students have to be willing to relocate or commute in order to find a job.

"Salaries are not very high so right now it makes sense to hire graduates rather than more experienced professionals who cost a lot of money. So there's always a market for newer graduates who have done work before, which means internships," said Reyes. "The trick is to try to get a summer job so that you can show diversity and that you are willing to work as a new employee."

Dr. Joseph Patten, Chair of the Political Science and Sociology Department, said, "The reality of it is that presidents do not fully control upticks or downturns in the economy. To stimulate the economy, presidents can influence fiscal policy by trying to put more money into the economy by increasing federal spending and cutting taxes. Presidents can also try to negotiate trade agreements with foreign nations, beneficial to American companies. The federal reserve board, not the President, is in control of interest rates."According to Patrick Murray, Director of the University Polling Institute, Obama understands that the issue of finding jobs is a primary concern among voters. "The number of times President Obama mentioned the word jobs in his speech is a clear indication that he understands how important this issue will be in his bid for reelection this fall," Murray said. "While he didn't gear his message specifically to young voters, it should have an appeal to recent graduates and students getting ready to enter the job market."