Remarks to the American Council on Education in San Francisco, California
Thank you very much. Thank you, Juliet, and thank you ladies and gentlemen. Your welcome was worth the 5-hour plane ride. [Laughter] I want to congratulate you all on this meeting, and I want to thank Juliet for her leadership and also say to Frank Jenifer, whom I know will carry on the Council's outstanding work and strong leadership in higher education, I wish you well, and I'm delighted to see you again.
I want to thank the entire American Council on Education Board of Directors for endorsing our middle class bill of rights. It will build education and training across America, and I want to say a little more about it in a few moments. You will have to play an important role in making it a reality, and I know that you'll be interested in what I think you have to do, along with what I have to do.
Let me say at the outset what an honor it is for me to be here with my longtime friend, our Secretary of Education, Dick Riley. He has really done a wonderful job, and I am very, very proud of him. And he is responsible for the fact that we had the most successful year last year in promoting advances in education in the Congress in at least 30 years in the United States, and I thank him for that.
I'm also glad to be here for the second straight year and to have Juliet's suggestion that maybe I should think about becoming a college president when I am once again unemployed. [Laughter] Now, before we came out here, she gave a slightly earthier description of why I should think about that. She reminded me that President Kennedy, when asked why he wanted to be President, said that the pay was pretty good, a nice house came along with the job, and you work close to home, and that was like a lot of college presidents' jobs. [Laughter]
Over New Year's I met a college president who told me that we had a lot in common with people who run cemeteries. He said, "You know, if you run a cemetery, you've got a whole lot of people under you, but nobody's listening." [Laughter] On the hard days, when you're about to cry, you can think of that and laugh a little bit about it.
We have more in common than that. You are the keepers of a great trust of this Nation, the most diverse network of learning in the entire world. It's a spur for our economy and a magnet for our people and for people and ideas from all around the globe. I come today as someone who spent some of the happiest years of his life teaching in colleges and universities, as someone who worked as a Governor tirelessly to advance the cause of education, and now in this job, as your partner in a very important mission at a very important time in our country's history.
Our job, yours and mine together, is to redefine the partnership to empower our people through education and through training to face the demands of this age. That's really why I ran for President. I believe it is the responsibility of our generation to work together to preserve the American dream for all Americans and to ensure that we move into the next century still the strongest country in the world.
And I think the best way for us to do that is by building a new partnership in our country between Americans and their Government and between one another. I've called that partnership the New Covenant, more opportunity in return for more responsibility and a renewed sense of citizenship and community. In that New Covenant, Government's responsibility is to expand opportunity while shrinking bureaucracy, to empower people to make the most of their own lives, and to enhance our security abroad but here at home as well. At the same time, we have to demand more responsibility from every citizen in return, more responsibility for our country, for our communities, for our families, and for ourselves.
As we end this century, we are facing dramatic changes in our economy, our Government, and our daily lives. As we move away from the cold war into the information age, we face a world that is both exciting and very challenging, a world where knowledge is the basis of wealth, creation, and power, and where technology accelerates the pace of change. In a world like that, those who have the skills to prosper will do far better than any generation of Americans has ever done. But those who lack the ability to learn and to adapt may be left behind no matter how hard they work.
That is part of the frustration of America today, that there are so many of our fellow Americans who are working harder and harder and harder and never feeling that they're rewarded, feeling that they're falling further behind, having less time for their children, having less time for their spouses, having less time for the things that we know as the quality of life, and just plowing ahead. It leads to people having too much anxiety and too little hope, and it leads to special responsibilities for all of us.
At the heart of all three of the responsibilities that I said the Federal Government has—expanding opportunity, empowering people, enhancing security—is your work, education. It is, indeed, the essence of the New Covenant. Now more than ever, education and training are the keys to opportunity for every American, and the future will only make that more true. They will only work, of course, if individuals also assume the responsibility for themselves to get themselves educated and to impart the value of education to their children, to their families, and throughout their communities. But it is clear that the key to opening the American dream for all Americans as we move into the next century is our ability to broadly spread the benefits of education.
For more than two decades, I have not budged from this conviction. I had, as it turns out for this job, the good fortune of growing up in a State which itself was burdened, in America's greatest explosion after World War II, for lack of education. And I have worked now for about 20 years, relentlessly, to constantly change the role of Government so that it wastes less money and does fewer things it shouldn't, but so that at the same time it serves people better, it insists on accountability, it promotes excellence, but it especially emphasizes educating people.
America now must do that if we have any hope of preserving the American dream in terms of all of our people, in terms of an expanding middle class instead of one that is shrinking and constantly being divided between the haves and have-nots, not in terms of money but in terms of education. As a Governor, I invested more in education and in higher standards for our students, for our teachers, and for our schools and in trying to make it easier for our young people in my State to go to college.
The "Nation At Risk" report, back in 1983, confirmed the crying need for changes in our public schools, and I was glad to work on trying to change the conditions in ours. At the end of the decade, I was proud to be one of the Governors who reached out across party lines to work with the governors association and with President Bush and his White House to craft anew national education goals, goals which we then wrote into law in the Goals 2000 program and which we are doing our best to help schools all across America to achieve on their own.
From the first day I became President, we have been committed in this administration to reinventing Government in all areas but especially in education. Our approach is not—and I repeat, is not—to micromanage anything. We have deregulated the Federal Government's role in education, in the public schools and elsewhere. We have worked to inspire reform at the grassroots level. We have recognized that our job is to define a road map, clear standards of excellence, and then to work to empower everyone in this society to reach those standards through education, to support the educational institutions all across this country, to support the students and the families to help them to reach those standards of excellence.
Instead of defending the status quo, we have worked to change it. We've abolished 13 of the education programs we inherited. We have cut another 38 programs that we thought were less than essential. We have consolidated 70 more programs in the budget I have just sent to Congress. And all of this is designed to empower students and working people, not educational bureaucrats; to help teachers to do their job, not to help the Federal Government to regulate more.
Others have talked about such things, but our administration has actually cut over a quarter of a trillion dollars in Federal spending. We have reduced more than 300 domestic programs. We have eliminated more than 100,000 people from the Federal payroll, and we have used the savings from the payroll reduction to put 100,000 more police officers on our streets in community policing settings, not run by the Federal Government but people who work at the grassroots level on the problems they confront every day. We are on our way, if no other law passes, to cutting more than a quarter of a million people from the Federal payroll and putting all those resources back into making our communities more secure.
And the budget I have just sent to Congress proposes another $144 billion in spending cuts. But my strategy is eliminating yesterday's Government to meet the demands of today and tomorrow, to give us a leaner but not a meaner Government, to cut Government to reduce the deficit and to increase our investments in the future, in education, in technology, in research, things like Head Start and Goals 2000 and the defense conversion programs we supported and the medical research programs we supported. These things make us stronger as a people. They build opportunity, and they demand responsibility, and they are good for America.
We should be discriminating in this work we are doing. We should move beyond rhetoric to reality. Let others talk about cutting spending. We have done it, and we'd like some more help. But we have to realize why we're doing it. We're doing it to lift the country up and bring the country together and move the country forward, not to find some way to divide us in a new and different way so we have more rhetoric, more hot air, and less progress. Let that be our commitment: to do better.
Now, I admit that some in the new Republican Congress see education in another way. They think education at the national level is just another area to cut and gut. Their proposals will cut investments in our future and increase the cost of student loans to our neediest students to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. They will limit the availability of lower cost direct loans to middle class students to increase profits for the middlemen in the student loans, even though that means a higher deficit. Indeed, the only thing they have proposed spending more money in education on are funds going to middlemen by limiting the amount of the direct loan program, by cutting it off just as it's becoming more and more successful. And some of them don't want to reinvent the Department of Education as I have done to make it stronger and leaner and more effective. They want to abolish it altogether. Well, I think Dick Riley's worth the money. And so, I want you to know that to all of this, I will say no. I will fight these proposals every step of the way. And I want you to join me in fighting them, too.
The fight for education is the fight for the American dream. It is the fight for America's middle class. It is the fight for the 21st century. It should therefore—and I emphasize—it should therefore be a bipartisan fight. When we passed the elementary and secondary education act last year, drastically reducing regulation, emphasizing more help to poor children in need, giving teachers and school principals more flexibility, it had bipartisan support.
Look, I want to work with this new Republican Congress to help America. We support many of the same initiatives. I supported them when they passed the bill to apply to Congress all the laws they put on private employers. I have supported our common efforts to reduce the burden of unfunded mandates on State and local governments. I have supported giving more flexibility to the States in pursuing welfare reform and health care reform. I've supported the line-item veto. But we clearly have our differences.
Look at the student loan reforms. We eliminated the middlemen and got the funds directly to the schools and the borrowers which meant, unbelievably, lower fees, lower interest rates, easier repayment choices for students. It meant less paperwork, less redtape, less bureaucracy to administer the programs for colleges and universities, and it meant much, much lower costs to the taxpayers.
Our proposal, when fully implemented, will save the taxpayers $12 billion over a 6-year period, while lowering the cost of college loans to the student and reducing the hassles to you. That is reinventing Government at its best. That is the new Democrat approach. It ought to be the new Republican approach, but instead they want to cap these loans. I want to expand them. I want to include all the schools and all the students who want to be a part of this program by 1997. Your choice, but I'll be darned if I want to cut it off from you when I know that it will help you.
They want to pay for the tax cuts in their contract for America by eliminating the student loan subsidy so that we start charging interest on the loans to our poorest students while they're in college. That costs $2 billion a year. That adds 20 percent on the average to the cost of going to college for some of our neediest students to pay for tax cuts. It is not right. That would be the biggest cut in student financial aid in the history of the United States.
Our approach is to help students and their hard-working parents, to cut bureaucracy, to reduce the deficit by not subsidizing noncompetitive middlemen. I might add that those who wish to compete for student loans are now doing it in many places for lower cost than they were providing when the Government was giving them a lock-down guarantee, because of the competition from the direct loan program.
Now, that is our approach. The other approach would increase the cost of education, would keep the bureaucracy and the redtape, and would increase the deficit by guaranteeing billions and billions more in no-risk funds to middlemen in the student loan system. It is wrong. It is wrong. And we should not stand for it. And I hope you won't stand for it. I hope you'll stand up and fight for it.
Now, as you well know—and I want to emphasize—we are not talking about a give-away. This Department of Education has gotten tougher on enforcing laws against default. And the default rate has dropped by one-third. The net annual cost to the taxpayers has fallen by almost two-thirds since we have been in office, from $2.8 billion to $1 billion, because we're enforcing the laws against default. I think it is wrong to default on your student loan. This Department of Education has gotten tough with scam operators masquerading as higher education. And every one of you wanted us to do that. Now, with this progress, I hope we can continue to remove the regulatory burdens from many of the strong institutions with proven records of responsibility. That's what you want us to do. That's his valentine present to you.
But that's the way we ought to be doing this. Secretary Riley will work with you to find a better way of balancing the flexibility you want with our obligations to the taxpayers. But the point is, other people talk about this stuff, but when I showed up in town 2 years ago, I found a student loan program that was too costly, helping too few people, gave too few options to the borrowers with a redtape headache to you, and the taxpayers were being ripped off. And we've tried to change it.
Now, when we proposed these direct student loans, our opponents and those who wanted to protect the status quo said that the Federal Government was completely incapable of administering a loan program. Well, they weren't right. They were wrong.
I got a letter that was sent to Terry Hartle by Jerome Supple, the president of Southwest Texas State in San Marcos. It's a big school now. It has 21,000 students. It distributes grants and loans in excess of $23 million. President Supple wrote about what direct lending has meant to his school. He also wrote to me, but Dick Riley gave me this copy of his letter to Terry Hartle, and I like it better than what the speechwriters put in, so I'm going to write what he actually said. [Laughter]
This is what he said: "We are aware of the concern of some members of the financial community about the shift to direct lending and can understand the concern for a loss of revenue. However, the savings to the Government and the improved service to other students offered by direct lending are of greater importance. The other argument that the Federal Government cannot effectively administer such a program and must rely on the expertise of the private sector is counter to our experience."
Listen to this: "The results have more than met our expectations. We have gone from an institution that was scrambling to meet our students' need, often after classes have started, to an institution that was one of the first in the State to get awards out last fall, so early, in fact, that it had a positive effect on our admissions program.
"While the direct lending program must share some of the credit for the improvement of our financial aid services with our hard-working and talented staff"—there's a good politician— [laughter]—also true—"there is no doubt that direct lending allows us to serve our students better. And finally," he says, "it is legitimate to express concern about the ability of the Department of Education to manage the direct lending program at full capacity, but the experience to date suggests that it can do this very well. It is rare that the Federal Government creates a program that both saves money and improves service to its constituents."
Listen to what the students say. I got a letter from Marie Lyons, a 40-year-old student—rather more typical these days. She wrote to me to say that she had given up hope on going to college. But with our loan reforms, she's been able to go to Murray State University in Kentucky, studying criminal justice. She'll be the first person in her family to graduate from college.
You know, we can't take hope away from people like Marie Lyons and all the other people now that are flooding back into your institutions, into the community colleges, into the 4-year institutions, because they know—they're way ahead of the politicians—they know what they need to do to make good lives for themselves, and they're coming to you. They're coming to you in record numbers. But people like that deserve the best opportunity we can give them. They are very responsible. They are working hard. They are people from all races and income groups and backgrounds with a million different life stories, but they are chasing a common dream. Because of people like that, we should not abolish the Department of Education, either. We should not do that.
You know, everybody talks about this being the information age. The White House and now the House of Representatives are in this little friendly contest to see who can do the most high-techy stuff on Internet, and call us on the computer and see what we have to offer, read the administration's budget. But if this is true, if the new economy really is based more than ever before on knowledge and skills, we have to do more of education. And undercutting education at this time, saying that this is not a national concern, that would be like undercutting the Department of Defense during the cold war. We won the cold war because we stayed strong. And we will win the fight for our own future and a place in the 21st century if we stay strong with education. That is what we should do.
You know our future depends upon it. You know, as President, as has already been said, I've worked pretty hard for us to do well in this new war for the minds and hearts of our people and for the future. And I do think one of the smartest things I ever did was to appoint Dick Riley as the Secretary of Education. One of the reasons is, I find that once you become President, sometimes people, even people you think know you very well, all of a sudden don't really tell you what's on their minds. It drives me nuts since I don't mind hearing what's on people's minds. Sometimes they don't want to hear what's on mine in return when they tell me, but it's okay. [Laughter] But one of the things you need to know about the Secretary of Education is, we've been friends since I was barely old enough to shave. He always tells me what's on his mind—[laughter]—and what's on his mind is you and your students and the future of this country.
So I'll say again, we're cutting inessential education programs. We've saved more money by going to the direct student loans than they can save by cutting out the people who work at the Department of Education. Who are we trying to kid here? He is worth the investment; the other people who work there are worth the investment.
We are not running education, but we are trying to energize it and create opportunity and shine a light to the future. This is a classic battle, and we ought to fight it and win it together, not just the battle to save the Department of Education, not just the battle for the direct loan program, not just the battle against increasing the cost of student loans but the larger issue. And I will say again, this ought to be a bipartisan battle that we fight so that we can meet our responsibility to prepare our children for the 21st century and so that we can make the most of our own lives.
For 2 years, we have done everything we could do to prepare our people for the new economy. Last year when I came before you, I presented a comprehensive agenda for lifelong learning. I'm proud to report that with the last Congress, we did produce a tremendously successful record in achieving that agenda. We reformed Head Start and expanded it by 30,000 more children. And next year, I want to expand it again by at least that many. That's why we're cutting inessential programs, not only to reduce the deficit but to put the money where the people need it. I think the taxpayers want the Head Start program expanded.
We passed the Goals 2000 program, and for the first time we spell out a national understanding of what our young people must learn to compete in the world. This goes right to the heart of the whole approach of the national role in education, not trying to tell people how to teach or regulate how they spend every day and every hour or control them through a blizzard of paperwork but to set national standards and then give State and local governments the control, the power, the opportunity, and, where we can, the resources to get the job done, to give them the flexibility through waivers of complex Federal rules and reforms like charter schools and public school choice, and to do it with no new Federal regulations to diminish State and local control. I'm proud of that.
The way we're running that program is the way the Federal Government ought to relate to the States in the area of public education. We are raising the bar for everyone. All of our young people are going to have to do better. I think we all know that. All of our parents and grandparents are going to have to help our young people to do better. All of you in this room now accept as a truism that we have the best higher education system in the world, but that we have to do better in our school systems K-12, and we are all going to have to teach to higher standards, to work to higher standards, to learn to higher standards.
Our communities, our businesses, they're going to have to pitch in and do more. And our young people, we know—and let me say this with all sincerity and convictions—we know that too many of them are still trying to learn in atmospheres that are too dominated by violence and drugs. If they can't walk down the halls or learn in the classrooms because they're afraid for their safety, then all the reforms will not be successful. That's why making our school environment safe and disciplined and drug-free are important to all the other standards being achieved, and why we have worked so hard in this administration and in this Department of Education to make sure that all of our legislative efforts included the safe schools initiatives.
You know, some young people—I ought to emphasize, too, because I know who all is out here—don't plan to go on to 4-year colleges. And that's fine. If they don't plan to do that, we also have to make sure that they have the academic strength and skills they need to compete.
That's what our School-to-Work Opportunities Act was all about, to reinvent the relationship of high school to the world of work and the work of post-high-school education with high standards that enable our students to learn in class and to begin to reach out into the real world. Along with their classroom learnings, they are learning real jobs, dealing with real people, and we expect them to go on for some posthigh-school education as well.
We're not doing this with a big national bureaucracy. We're doing it with grants and advice and help and support to let every State set up a flexible network, working with employers and schools and the postsecondary educational institutions to make sure that we fill this enormous gap in the American system. There are too many of our young people still who neither get a 4-year college degree or at least have a good school-to-work transition the way many of our competitors do.
These reforms, every one of them, will make sure that more capable students are coming into your institutions, which means you'll have to spend less time bringing them up to speed. I know that would be a relief to all of you. A lot of us have been working on it for years and years, but I believe it will make a difference.
Something else we did last year that I'm very proud of that two or three of you have already mentioned to me today is our national service program, AmeriCorps. It already has 20,000 Americans taking responsibility for improving their country at the grassroots level and earning some money to go to school. It is a very, very important thing for this country, and I am very proud of it.
Americans like the 16 members at the University of California at Berkeley, who have 750 of their classmates tutoring middle school students and helping four local police departments set up neighborhood watch programs. Now, that's just one example of hundreds I could give you of what a modest Federal investment can do to get a big result. Eighty-nine members of AmeriCorps in Texas immunized—listen to this—104,000 infants in Texas two summers ago. In Simpson County, Kentucky, AmeriCorps members are teaching second-graders to read, and they've already raised the reading levels there from 2 years behind the official standard to 1 year ahead of it.
Now again, some people in the new Republican Congress say that AmeriCorps is a waste of money, bribing people to do service, an expensive way to send people to college. I say it's about the best thing that's happened to this country in a long time. I'm going to fight to keep it, and I hope you'll fight for that, too. And for all of you that have had AmeriCorps projects on your campuses and with your students, I thank you, and I hope more of you will ask to do it.
We've got a lot more work to do. We have to protect the Pell grants, and as Juliet said, my budget raises the maximum grant by 12 percent. We all know the Pell grant program got in trouble, and we had to make it solvent again, and it hasn't kept up with the economy. But this is a good step in the right direction.
We've got to preserve the work-study program, the other campus-based programs that we all know are important to the students on your campuses. And we've got to keep moving forward on university-based research with expanded investments and less redtape. I do not believe that it is the right thing to do to take universities out of the partnerships we now see forming. In defense conversion, for example, where we are doing remarkable things with the decline of the defense budget, taking some of that decline and putting it into partnerships between universities and private companies with some Federal investment and a whole lot of private investment. Again, there are some in the new Congress who say, let's get rid of all that. That's our competitive edge, research, development, mind work, making connections, moving forward.
All of this is an agenda that works. In his state of American education address earlier this month, to which Secretary Riley alluded, he said that America is turning the corner from being a nation at risk in education to being a nation on the move. Well, you've got my word: I will fight for the education and training reforms that will keep us on the move. And I want you to fight for them, too, and we will win because the American people are for us.
Now, that's why I have proposed this middle class bill of rights, because I want to emphasize what we still have to do. We can't just preserve what we've got. We've got to keep going forward. All over this country there are people who are saying, "Well, I read about this recovery, and I know we've got 6 million new jobs, but it's not affecting me. I still feel insecure and uncertain, and I haven't gotten a raise. The middle class bill of rights, I think should be called the bill of rights and responsibilities because, like all the other things we've been talking about today, you can't take advantage of it unless you act responsibly. It does offer a tax cut for people, but only if they're behaving responsibly, raising their children, educating themselves or their children.
From your point of view, the most important parts of it are a tax deduction for the cost of education after high school; an IRA that you can withdraw from tax-free for education and for other purposes like buying a health insurance policy; and the collapse of 70 of the Government's training programs into a program which a person who's eligible for Federal training help because he or she is unemployed or working for a very low wage can draw on and just take the money, up to $2,600 a year, to an institution of his or her choice, getting around the Federal bureaucracy, getting around all the programs and going direct to a lot of you.
Now, this is a good thing, and I thank you for endorsing it. But I need your help to make it happen. Why is it a good thing? It's a good thing, first of all, because it will lower the cost of living for hard-working people who have gotten no benefit out of this recovery yet. But instead of just giving them a quick fix, it lowers their cost of living because it increases their standard of living over the long run by putting the money into education. It is the right way to give tax relief to the middle class. It is consistent with long-term control of the deficit. It is consistent with a commitment to long-term economic growth. And I ask each of you to do what you do best now—to help teach people about this, to talk about it; because this resolution is really nice, but what we really need is for every Member of Congress to hear from every college president, every dean of students, every member of every board of trustees, every student body president, every student organization in the country, "Hey, don't take the interest subsidy away." "Hey, don't stop us from getting the direct loans." "Hey, pass the middle class bill of rights."
Education is the key to our future. It ought not to be a partisan issue. If there is one thing in the wide world that ought to unite us on the way to the next century, it should be our common commitment to explode the potential of our people. I need your help. I want your help. You can do it. But the resolution has to be a first step, not the last step. Be heard in every office of every Member of Congress in the United States, and we will have a great victory. I need you. I want you to do it. I'm confident you will.
Thank you very much.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:45 a.m. in the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Juliet Garcia, chair, Franklyn Jenifer, incoming chair, and Terry Hartle, vice president for government relations, American Council on Education.
William J. Clinton, Remarks to the American Council on Education in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220775