President Obama devoted part of the annual State of the Union address to improving education and access

education-sotu
Mykhaylo Palinchak, 2014/Shutterstock.com

President Obama in his Jan. 20, 2015 State of the Union Address highlighted the need for high-speed broadband for all Americans, access to higher education opportunities, and the need to protect student data in information.

On the heels of data breaches and proposals to protect student data, Obama called on Congress “to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.”

The Student Digital Privacy Act would prohibit companies from selling student data to third parties, a move spurred by the increased use of technology in schools that can scoop up personal information.

“Over the course of the past few months, a group of national education organizations, representing a range of perspectives, experience and stakeholders in the field, has been developing a set of shared principles for safeguarding the personal information of America’s students,” the Consortium for School Networking and the Data Quality Campaign said in a joint statement.

“Everyone has a role to play in ensuring parents and others can trust that data are being safely used to help students succeed. In the past year, states have created 26 new student privacy laws, and the education technology industry have pledged a series of commitments to safeguard data that has been signed by 75 companies. All federal action needs to be aligned with all the local and state efforts to protect student data.”

(Next page: Obama outlines a vision for community college access)

Obama also touched on expanding high-speed internet access to schools and communities: “I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.”

During his speech, Obama focused on the nation’s improved economy and emphasized his belief that everyone should have a “fair shot” at success–and that, in turn, contributes to the nation’s prosperity.

But “to make sure folks keep earning higher wages down the road, we have to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills.”

By 2020, Obama said, two-thirds of job openings will require at least some form of high education. That contrasts sharply with increasing college costs, which prevent many students from attending or completing college.

“It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future,” he said.

Forty percent of college students opt for community college, Obama said–some have just graduated from high school, some are changing careers, and others are looking for more skills to get better jobs in their field.

“Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time,” Obama said. “I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.”

The plan has not gone without criticism, however, with some experts and stakeholders wondering if the plan is financially sound.

A brief from the National Center for Policy Analysis notes that “the result of infusing colleges with billions of dollars in additional funds will be to raise the cost of a college education even higher–just as student loans and federal grants have encouraged wasteful spending by colleges and universities across the country.”

The likelihood of more students choosing two free years of community college is up for debate, according to research and advisory firm Eduventures.

Obama also touched on partnerships between local businesses and institutions of higher education, spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden’s work on job training systems.

“We’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics. Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education,” he said.

Laura Ascione

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