Students Offer Advice to Barack Obama

Students worry about rising college costs, faltering job market.

AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 8, 2008 -- College students have many things to say, and they want President-elect Barack Obama to hear them.

In his speech Tuesday night, marking a watershed moment in United States' history as the first black man to be elected president, Obama said that the road will be long and rough but that Americans will reach our goals.

Accountability Wanted

University students across the country, whether they voted for Obama or John McCain, have advice for the next president on how to get us there.

"I hope that the next administration will be able to work well and have a cooperative relationship with Congress and be able to implement policies that both parties can see the benefits of," said Catherine Bradley, a University of Texas at Austin public relations senior.

She is already prepared to hold Obama accountable for more than the promises he made in his speech: "Remember your campaign promises and stick to them or you'll alienate a lot of people."

Costs and Jobs

Because university students across America face stresses such as student debt, the rising cost of college and the lack of jobs in the work force they are about to join, they have distinct perspectives on these issues.

At George Washington University in Washington, D.C., fewer student loans and merit-based scholarships are available because of the downturn in the economy, said Ashley Mergen a political science senior at George Washington. Mergen recommends increasing innovation in America's work force and supporting free trade to improve the situation, she said.

"We need to engage world leaders to get ourselves out of this mess. We can't do it alone; we are all interconnected," Mergen said. "One of the ways would be through trade liberalization."

Economy First

Keshav Rajagopolan, Student Government president at the University of Texas, reflected Mergen's concerns and said that during the first 100 days in office the president should first and foremost address the economy because it affects so many of the other issues, such as the war in Iraq, foreign policy and education.

"Looking through the lens of a person in college and about to graduate, my main two questions for the president would be how to close the gap of American competitiveness in the world," Rajagopolan said. "And how are you going to close the education gap?"

Looking for Action

It is a sad thing that many students are still not graduating from high school in a society where a diploma alone is not going to cut it, he said. "We have a lot of ground to cover."

But others, such as Kenneth Stuff, an economics senior at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, do not think the president can greatly affect the economy on his own and that it is really the job of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. "Capitalism is failing in our country: How would you regulate it and why?" Stuff theoretically asked Obama.

Stuff would like to see the president, as his first act in office, finish the war in Iraq in a stable manner and subsequently redirect that money and effort into domestic issues.

"Honestly I'm not informed enough to know how to do it but I just hope it's smart and it works," Stuff said about fixing problems at home. "I just don't want to turn on my TV and hear people saying that is a dumb idea, I want to hear people saying, 'That should work.'"

Seeking Balanced Budget

Geoff Geiger, vice president of the College Republicans at UT, also thinks the fate of the economy is not entirely in the president's hands but would like to see the federal budget balanced, he said.

Students are the only ones who can answer their own questions about the job market, Geiger said. "The next president is going to have to deal with a lot of issues," Geiger said, "and I trust the hands of the president and his advisers."

Upbeat About Future

Despite the stresses of student life intermingled with political concerns, many college students maintain a positive outlook.

"We can talk about problems all day but if we don't find the solution, we're not going to get anywhere," said Zach Hall, president of the University Democrats at UT. "But there are solutions."

If the U.S. invests in energy independence, problems like Iraq and global warming can be solved, he said. As someone with $20,000 in student loans, Hall also sees education reform as a solution to another slew of issues such as the education gap and rising college costs. "The inequality in our public schools must be addressed if our country is going to maintain middle class emphasis," Hall said.

University students may be long past the time of scribbling theoretical letters to the White House, but they now have a more refined and complicated message than ever before.

Want to Be Heard

Although they're not yet full-time members of the work force, they are ready for their admonitions to the president-elect, regardless of parties or beliefs, to be taken seriously.

"My worst fear is that they don't capitalize and feed the youth energy and for youth to become involved and then disenchanted," said Rajagopolan.

"You," he said to the next president, "have an opportunity to keep the momentum going."