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May 14, 2016

President Obama speaks with student journalists over teleconference

At exactly noon, students across the country dialed a 1-800 number, slightly nervous and very excited.

After several rings, a teller greeted each of them, asking which teleconference they were calling for. They asked to be connected to the President.

Several minutes of waiting passed, and after a short introduction, the President took the line, “Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining me today,” Barack Obama said.

On Monday, President Obama held an on-the-record teleconference with student journalists from across the nation.

Late Friday evening, 100 student journalists received invitations to participate in a conference call with the President to “discuss the steps his administration has taken to address the concerns and issues important to young Americans,” said the White House Media Affairs Office.

In the teleconference, the President discussed the rising cost of higher education, healthcare, and emphasized the need for young people to head to the polls come mid-term elections.

“What I want to do is just to go speak to young people directly and remind them of what I said during the campaign, which was change is always hard in this country. It doesn’t happen overnight. You take two steps forward, you take one step back. This is a big, complicated democracy,” said the President.

Tomorrow, Obama will be on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, urging students to vote. Vice President Joe Biden will be in his home-state, speaking at the University Park campus of the Pennsylvania State University. These trips are in hopes of motivating college students to become involved in the upcoming mid-term election, as many political strategists have noted that student support was crucial to the President’s election in 2008.

Obama told students to inform themselves about their local races.

“You’ve got to take the time to find out where does your congressional candidate stand on various issues, where does your Senate candidate stand on various issues, and make an educated decision and participate in this process — because democracy is never a one-and-done proposition. It’s something that requires sustained engagement and sustained involvement,” Obama said.

“Look, back in 2008, a lot of young people got involved in my campaign because they felt like the path that we were on… was a mess — I think people just generally felt that we needed to bring about some fundamental changes in how we operate,” said the President.

In 2008, he won 66 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 in his win over John McCain, according to exit polls. Those young voters comprised 18 percent of the electorate. Obama will be trying to rally the support of these voters again, to help influence the upcoming elections.

A key topic discussed was higher education. A student journalist from University of California-Los Angeles expressed his concerns about the rising cost of higher education. As a student at UCLA, he experienced a 32 percent tuition increase last year, and worried about the future rising prices. On the issue, he asked the President how he plans to combat skyrocketing student expenses.

The president expressed his desire for universities to have a renewed focus on education. “I think what we’ve got to examine is, are we designing our universities in a way that focuses on the primary thing, which is education.”

He said that his administration will be working with university presidents to “figure out how can we get control of costs generally and refocus our priorities” on education.

Obama also advised students and parents to be savvy when considering colleges.

“You guys have to be good consumers, and your parents have to be good consumers, and we’ve got to offer you more information. You should know where your tuition is going.

 “There should be a pie chart at every university that says, out of every dollar you spend in tuition, here’s where your money is going. And you should have some good understanding of that and be able to make some better decisions as a consequence of that information.”

 After answering four questions, Obama announced that he was out of time, thanked the student journalists, said he hopes to meet each personally at their different colleges or universities, and hung up the phone.

 Michelle Williams can be reached at mnwillia@student.umass.edu.

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