CLINTON ON EDUCATION
JUNE 4, 1996
President Clinton addressing the graduating class of Princeton University. The focus was education and economics.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: It is clear that America has the best higher education system in the world and that it is the key to a successful future in the 21st century. It is also clear that because of costs and other factors not all Americans have access to higher education. I want to say today that I believe the clear facts of this time make it imperative that our goal must be nothing less than to make the 13th and 14th years of education as universal to all of Americans as the first 12 are today.
We have put in place an unprecedented college opportunity strategy. Student loans can now be given directly to people who need them with the provision to repay them based on the ability of the graduate to pay, based on income. This is a dramatic change which is making loans more accessible to young people who did not have them before. AmeriCorps, which by next year will have given over 65,000 young people the chance to earn their way through college by serving their country in their communities, more Pell Grants, scholarships for deserving students every year. Now we want to go further. We want to expand work/study so that a million students can work their way through college by the year 2000. We want to let people use money from their Individual Retirement Accounts to help pay for college. We want every honor student in the top 5 percent of every high school class in America to get a $1,000 scholarship. And we also want to do some other things that I believe we must do to make 14 years of education the standard for every American. First, I have asked Congress to pass a $10,000 tax deduction to help families pay for the costs of all education after high school, $10,000 a year.
Today I announce one more element to complete our college strategy and make those two years of college as universal as four years of high school. A way to do it by giving families a tax credit targeted to achieve that goal, and making clear that this opportunity requires responsibility to receive it. We should say to Americans who want to go to college we will give you a tax credit to pay the cost of tuition at the average community college for your first year, or you can apply the same amount to the first year in a four-year university or college. We will give you the exact same cut by the second year but only if you earn it by getting a B average the first year. A tax deduction for families to help them pay for education after high school, a tax credit for individuals to guarantee their first year of college and the second year if they earn it. This is not just for those individuals. This is for America. Your America will be stronger if all Americans have at least two years of higher education.
Think of it. We're not only saying to children from very poor families who think they would never be able to go to college, people who may not have stellar academic records in high school, if you're willing to work hard and take a chance, you can at least go to your local community college, we'll pay for the first year. If you're in your 20's and you're already working but you can't move ahead on a high school diploma, now you can go back to college. If you're a mother planning to go to work but you're afraid you don't have the skills to get a good job, you can go to college. If you're 40 and you're worried that you need more education to support your family, now you can go part-time, you can go at night, and by all means, go to college, and we'll pay the tuition. I know this will work. Let me say, as all of you know, money doesn't grow on trees in Washington and we're not financing deficits anymore. I'm proud to say, as a matter of fact, for the last two years, our budget has been in surplus, except for the interest necessary to pay the debt run up in the several years before I became President. So we are doing our best to pay for these programs, and this program will be paid for by budgeted savings and the balanced budget plan. We cannot go back to the days of something for nothing or pretend that in order to invest in education we have to sacrifice fiscal responsibility.
Now this program will do three things. It will open the doors of college opportunity to every American, regardless of their ability to pay. Education at the typical community college will now be free. In the very few states that have tuition above the amount that we can afford to credit I would challenge those states to close the gap. We are going to take care of most of the states. The rest of them should help us the last little way. Second, it will offer free tuition and training to every adult willing to work for it. Nobody now needs to be stuck in a dead end job or in unemployment. And finally, this plan will work because it will go to people who by definition are willing to work for it. It's America's most basic bargain. We'll help create opportunity if you'll take responsibility. This is the basic bargain that has made us a great nation. Again I will say this is about far more than economics and money. It is about preserving the quality of our democracy, the integrity of every person standing as an equal citizen before the law, the ability of our country to prove that no matter how diverse we get, we can still come together in shared community values to make each of our lives and our families' lives stronger and richer and better.