VESTAL, N.Y. - At a rare town hall gathering, President Obama fielded questions ranging from how to keep Head Start funding intact to the education and civil rights progress made since the March on Washington 50 years ago.
And although the president devoted the beginning of the event to outlining his new plan to make colleges more affordable, he offered one new suggestion for law schools - trimming the years it takes to get a law degree from three to two.
"This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I'm in my second term," Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate and former law school professor, said to laughter.
"Law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years," he said. "In the first two years, young people are learning in the classroom. The third year, they'd be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren't getting paid that much. But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student."
The president was also asked how the administration will respond to budget cuts to programs such as Head Start, the president, on the second day of his bus tour, said he anticipates there will be a battle in Congress over the issue when it returns from recess, adding that the only crisis that Washington faces is "manufactured" and "ideological."
"We don't have an urgent deficit crisis. The only crisis we have is one that's manufactured in Washington, and it's ideological," President Obama told students, faculty and parents Friday at Binghamton University, the State University of New York.
"When we get back to Washington, when Congress gets back to Washington, this is going to be a major debate. It's the same debate we've been having for the last two years," he said. "What we should really be thinking about is how do we grow an economy so that we're creating a growing, thriving middle class and we're creating more ladders of opportunity for people who are willing to work hard to get in the middle class."
With the 50 th anniversary of the March on Washington next week, President Obama was asked to assess how educational opportunities and civil rights have expanded since the historic event.
"Fifty years after the March on Washington and the 'I have a dream' speech, obviously we've made enormous strides. I'm a testament to it," the president said. "That impulse towards making sure everybody gets a fair shot is one that found expression in the civil rights movement but then spread to include Latinos and immigrants and gays and lesbians. … Each generation seems wiser in terms of wanting to treat people fairly and do the right thing, and not discriminate, and that's a great victory that we should all be proud of."
But the president acknowledged that even if "active discrimination" doesn't exist in the way it did 50 years ago, there are still communities that are afflicted by poverty.
"It's in all of our interest to make sure that we are putting in place smart polices to give those communities a life and to create ladders so that young people in those communities can succeed," he said. "I think the biggest challenge we have is not that we don't know what policies work, it's getting our politics right."
Prior to his town hall, President Obama made an unannounced stop at the soccer fields at Tully Central High School where the boys' and girls' teams were practicing. The president even got in some practice of his own, kicking the soccer ball around with the boys' team.
One young girl at the practice told Obama that meeting the president was on her bucket list.
"Here's the general rule: when you're 9, you don't need a bucket list. When you get to be 52 then you might start wanting to draw one up," he said.