Remarks to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
Thank you very much. I assure you, when I was attempting to help Anne's institution get that foundation grant, I had not imagined that one day I would reap this benefit of that fine introduction. [Laughter]
Let me congratulate Mike Adams on his successful term as chairman and for his kind remarks and for recognizing the brilliant work of our Education Secretary, Dick Riley. I know of no person who has had that job who has done as much in so many areas to have a positive impact on the education of the American people. And we are all in his debt, most of all the President, but all of us are in his debt for the fine job he has done.
And I do want to thank Anne Die again for that wonderful introduction and for the kind remarks she had about Hillary and about me and what we did together. I must say, as I said in the State of the Union Address, after 3 years the central lesson that I have learned as President is that in meeting our challenges we have to do what we did instinctively at home; we have to work together more. And the role of Government should be seen in the context of an instrument of helping us work together to meet our common challenges. I enjoyed doing that then, and when it's possible, I like doing it here. [Laughter]
I'm also delighted to see David Warren again. We first met, as he may have said publicly before, in 1970, about 26 years ago, when we both worked on the Senate campaign of Joseph Duffey in Connecticut. And neither one of us had any gray hair then. [Laughter] Now Joe Duffey is doing a fabulous job for the United States as head of the USIA, and he has less gray hair than either one of us. [Laughter] Our only consolation is he also has less hair than either one of us. [Laughter] Anyway, it's been a busy 26 years for both of us, and I'm proud of the work that he does for you.
For 20 years this association has given voice to the concerns of higher education. You have demonstrated something that America knows about itself but sometimes forgets, and that is that there is strength in diversity. You come from every corner of our Nation. You represent every field, from the sciences to the liberal arts to businesses and all kinds of institutions, from church-related schools to historically black colleges to women's colleges. You have shown enormous strength and perseverance in our common efforts to keep the doors of college education open to all Americans.
Your Alliance to Save Student Aid is doing wonderful work, and I may be preaching to the choir, but every now and then even the choir needs to hear that. It is doing wonderful work. I know how hard you have fought to save the right to choose the direct lending program. And I tell you what I have told the Members of Congress: This is no time, for whatever reason, under whatever circumstances, to cut back on any kind of student aid. We need more of it, not less of it.
If I might, I would like to take just a few moments today to try to put the struggles that you and I are engaged in, to not only keep open the doors of college for all Americans but to widen those doors, in a larger historic context. In my State of the Union Address I said I thought that America had entered a great age of possibility, and I believe that. I believe that the American people who are poised to take advantage of it will have more opportunities to live out their dreams than any generation of Americans ever has. We also know, perplexingly, that this is an age of great challenge in which huge numbers of Americans feel deeply frustrated and worried that not only they, but their children, will not have the chance to live out their dreams.
How could both these things coexist at the same time? How could there be so much good economic news and so much troubling economic news? How could there be good news on the social front and troubling news on the social front? It is, I am convinced, endemic to the nature of this moment in our history, which I believe is most like what happened to us more or less a hundred years ago when we went through the transformation from being a rural and agricultural society into a more urbanized, more industrial society. And now we're moving into an age dominated by information and technology and the markets of the global village.
The nature of work has changed, and that helps you in your enterprise because we now have—almost all work contains more mind and less body, more information and more technology, and is changing more rapidly so you not only need to know more, you need to be able to learn more. The nature of work is changing, and there is no sign that the rate of change and the direction of change will do anything but speed up.
The nature of work organizations are also changing. You have more and more people who are self-employed, more and more people who can now work at home because there are computer hookups. The largest and most bureaucratic and most top-down organizations tend to be swimming down, pushing decisions down, and getting rid of a lot of people in the middle of the organizations that used to hand orders and information up and down the food chain of the enterprise. And again, that can be good, but it can be severely disruptive if you're 50 years old and you've got three kids to send to college and you've just been told that your Fortune 500 company doesn't need you anymore.
We see the change in the nature of work. The encouraging thing is that in the last 3 years, more jobs have been created by businesses owned by women alone than have been eliminated by the Fortune 500 companies. But they're different. They're smaller; they're more scattered about. They are less secure in a traditional sense. So work is changing and work organizations are changing.
And finally, the nature of our markets are changing. The markets for financing and the markets for goods and services are increasingly global, increasingly rapid, and on occasion, ruthless because of their ability to seek the area of greatest opportunity in a split second. And all of these things have opened up vast new opportunities but impose great new challenges on our ability to maintain old-fashioned values and to maintain a sense of national community as all these changes proliferate and put pressures on all of our institutions to pull apart and break down and leave people feeling more isolated.
You see, for example, in the United States right now in the last 3 years, we have enjoyed the lowest unemployment and inflation rates combined in 27 years. We have about 8 million new jobs. Homeownership is at a 15-year high. Exports are at an all-time high. As the Congress debates the farm bill today, we see soybeans at a 17-year high, wheat at a 15-year high, and corn is about $3.60—and I don't know how long it's been since it's been that high but a while— partly because of technology in agriculture and the sophistication of the markets by which agriculture is traded and moved around the world. We have in each of the last 3 years had the largest number of new businesses formed in our history, each year breaking a record, and the largest number of new self-made millionaires in our history, not people who inherited their wealth but people who lived the American dream, who went out by their own efforts and put something together in the private sector and made themselves a million dollars doing it. And that is all very encouraging. And, of course, you have enjoyed it because knowledge is at a greater premium than ever before, and it's exciting for you.
Now, the other side of that is, more than half the people in the workplace are working in real terms for the same or lower wages they were making more than a decade ago. The average working family is spending more hours on the job today than they were in 1969. That's very important. And as more and more people work for smaller and smaller units in more and more shifting patterns, and there's more and more downsizing, over and over and over again, more people feel insecurity about not only their job but their health care, their retirement, and their ability to educate their own children.
I went to the typical little red brick schoolhouse when I was in grade school in my hometown in Arkansas with a man who grew up in very humble circumstances, who was the first person in his family to go to college, who was an engineer with a Fortune 500 company. And when he was 49 the company came to him and two other 49-year-old white male engineers and said, "We don't need you anymore," right when all their kids were ready to go to college, and the company was making more profits. And for 9 months he worked to try to find another position.
This story has a happy ending. He got another one; he's doing all right. And he had a lot of high-tech help. He had a sophisticated computer program where he had identified 250 contacts all across America of any possible employers who could hire someone like him, making about what he had made, doing about what he had done. And he churned that network with all of its high-tech glory for 8 or 9 hours a day, but it still took him 9 months to find a job. That is the other side of this.
The other day I had coffee with a friend of mine from out West who is an immensely successful man who by pure, blind irony was also in that little red brick schoolhouse with me 40 years ago in Arkansas, along with his brother. His brother was also immensely successful, but he happened to work for two companies in a row that were bought out in one of these leveraged buyouts, and in the downsizing he lost his job. He didn't do anything wrong; he was perfectly productive. But he just was in the wrong place at the wrong time, not once but twice.
So our big question here is how can we keep the dynamism of this new economy, how can we keep it going and growing and offering these opportunities but make the opportunities available to all Americans and give us a chance to preserve a sense of community in this country, that anybody who works hard and plays by the rules should have a chance to be rewarded for it?
You see the same thing on the social front where the American people really are beginning to get their act together, not only in terms of their values but in terms of adopting strategies that work. You see the crime rate down, the welfare rolls, the food stamp rolls down, the poverty rolls down, the teen pregnancy rate down for the last 2 years. That's the good news. The bad news is I could tell you the crime rate was down, and I could show you the statistics, and there is still a zillion streets in this country you wouldn't feel comfortable walking in after dark.
So all those problems are still far too great for a great country like ours to tolerate. And we are wasting too many of our children's lives and too much of our fortune dealing with the fallout of our inability to organize ourselves in constructive ways so that we raise our children properly and we all behave right. And we are paying a terrible price for it.
We're not putting all of our players on the field. We still have whole chunks of areas of our cities and isolated rural areas which have been completely untouched by this economic recovery, but they have plenty of the dark side of our social fallout.
So the challenge, I will say again, is how can we make the American dream available to all Americans and how can we pull this country together when there are so many forces working to divide it? I believe the first thing we have to do is to get beyond the partisan bickering here and pass the 7-year balanced budget plan that protects education and the environment and Medicare and Medicaid. We have identified now, in common, common to both the Republican and Democratic approaches, $700 billion in savings. That is more than enough to pass a balanced budget plan in 7 years that meets the criteria I've laid out. There is no excuse for not doing it. We ought to just do it and put it behind us and stop having the newspapers filled with it every day. We ought to give the American people a balanced budget.
Then, as I said in the State of the Union— so then what? The question is, how are we going to meet these challenges? How are we going to help people to make the most of their own lives? How are we going to help families and communities to solve their problems at the grassroots level? I am convinced that we have to do it together. And I am convinced there are seven major things we have to do, and I will just repeat them briefly and then focus on education.
First and foremost, we have to enable ourselves, our friends, and our neighbors to do a better job raising our children and strengthening our families. Sometimes the time young people are old enough to go to college, it's already too late for too many of them.
And let me just mention one example. Today a comprehensive scientific study is being released on the impact of television violence on young people. And it concludes what we all know in our instinctive selves, that television violence is pervasive, numbing, and can have a lasting and corrosive effect on young people if they're exposed to too much of it for too long. It distorts their perspective and later changes their attitudes and, for some of them, their behavior.
In my State of the Union Address, I called upon Congress to pass the telecommunications legislation, but to pass it with the V-chip requirement in it so that all the new cable television sets would give parents the right to select out programs with excessive violence or other objectionable content they didn't want their children to see. I am proud to say that tomorrow, at the Library of Congress, I will sign the telecommunications bill into law with the V-chip requirement in it. And I think it will make a difference.
It's an example of what we ought to do, though. The telecommunications part of this legislation, because of the changes there, would enable our country to generate tens of thousands of more high-wage, high-tech, exciting jobs, to offer consumers vast new opportunities in telecommunications. But we can do it in a way that still reinforces instead of undermines our basic values, that doesn't say anything goes, whatever looks like a market opportunity in this millisecond should govern and overcome whatever your enduring sense of values is. But that's what I like about it. And that's the sort of thing I think we need to be looking for in other areas of our lives.
Our second challenge, obviously, is to try to provide an educational opportunity for every American for a lifetime.
Third: to provide a new sense of economic security in a dynamic economy by giving people access to education for a lifetime, access to health care, and access to a pension you can take with you when you move from job to job.
Our fourth challenge is to continue the fight against crime and gangs and drugs until we meet what we all know instinctively is the real test. The real test is when all of us feel that crime is the exception, rather than the rule, we'll be back to where we ought to be in America again, and we can't stop fighting until that is how we all feel.
Fifth, we have a serious challenge still, as we see from all the weather we've endured just in the last few years, to deal with the fundamental and pervasive impacts of environmental degradation and to change the whole mindset in America away from the idea that you have to accept a certain amount of environmental despoilation to grow the economy to the idea that you can actually reinforce economic growth if you have the right kind of environmental protection policies. And unless we make a commitment as a Nation to do that, we and the rest of the world are going to pay a terrible, terrible price.
I told the Prime Minister of China—I mean, the President of China, when we were in our last meeting that the biggest threat to our security from China had nothing to do with what everybody reads in the paper all the time; it had to do with the fact that they might get as rich as we are, and they'd have the same percentage of their people as we do driving automobiles, and we haven't figured out how to deal with the greenhouse gases and the global warning, in which case they would present a real threat to our security because we wouldn't be able to breathe, since they have 1 billion, 200 million people and we only have 260 million. This is a very serious thing. And it needs to be a bipartisan or nonpartisan issue.
The sixth great challenge is to maintain our leadership for peace and freedom. This is a time when a lot of Americans think we can afford to be isolationist because we have so many challenges at home. We paid a terrible price to win the cold war, and who is at our borders now? That's a very simple, but wrong, attitude. If we want people to buy our goods and services, we have to be willing to cooperate with them to advance peace and freedom. If we want countries to cooperate with us in stopping drugs from coming into our country, we have to work with them to get that done. And you'd only have to think about a few examples, the World Trade Center and the sarin gas breaking open in Japan, killing all those people in the subway, to know that high-tech terrorism is a global phenomenon that can only be engaged if you are involved with other countries.
Finally, we have to change the way our Government works so it inspires more confidence, does more good, and can still meet the demands of the modern era.
Now, having said that, if you ask me which one of these things is most likely to meet my objective, which is to help people make the most of their own lives and to give people the tools to solve their problems together, you would have to say that creating a system of excellent education with access to everybody for a lifetime is the most likely thing to do that, because the more educated people you have, the more they're likely to see these connections that I'm talking about and to make the right decisions community by community, State by State, and in our Nation as a whole. And unless we do that, we're going to be in real trouble.
But if we do it, then the age of possibility will be for everyone, and the 21st century will probably be known as the American century too. That's why higher education is so important. That's why I have worked so hard to protect these student aid programs, and indeed, to advance a lot of what we are doing.
You know these statistics, but I think a couple of them are worth repeating. In 1979 a worker with a college education earned about 40 percent more than a worker with a high school degree. Today the gap is about 75 percent and rising.
When I studied the 1990 census figures, I noticed that the only group of younger people that had incomes that were rising were those that had at least 2 years of post-high school education, as a group. Those with under 2 years or less had declining incomes from the beginning of their experience in the work force. They had committed themselves to a treadmill from the beginning which would get harder and harder and harder to stay on.
So I say, you know that. Now, if we all know that, why in the world would we ever do anything to make it harder to go on to college or to stay in college or to discourage people from taking out college loans? This is not rocket science. I may be talking to a lot of college presidents, but this is simple. This is a, b, c.
This is first grade, second grade, third grade. Why would we do anything ever to make it harder to go on to college and to stay there?
On this issue we must all stand firm, and I know I can depend upon you to do it. This is not a question of what the Government does. The Federal student loan guarantee program, the Pell grant scholarships, all these things are— these are not big Government programs. These are programs designed to help individuals make the most of their own lives and to help you succeed in operating your institutions. That is the role of the National Government.
And this is not soft-headed. We have—I'm proud of the fact that since we've been here Secretary Riley and I have overseen almost a 50 percent reduction in the student loan default rate. I'm proud of that, and I know a lot of you support that.
It would seem to me that that would be evidence that we know also what we're doing when we say we ought to make more loan options available to more people. I like the direct loan program because it's less hassle for you and less hassle for the students. But I really like it because as long as you even have the option to do it, it'll be more pressure on all the competition to cut the costs and increase the quality of service. And I've seen that happen as well.
We've increased the Pell grants, and we should do that some more. We still haven't gotten back to where they used to be; we ought to do it some more.
This year 25,000 young people will earn some money to go to college by their AmeriCorps service in communities all across the country, and we ought to maintain that program. I feel strongly about it.
And I'm sure you remember that in the State of the Union I proposed three further steps. First of all, that we should award a $1,000 scholarship to every student in the top 5 percent of every graduating class in America; that's 128,000 graduating seniors we could give a little more money to go to college on. I think we ought to do it.
Second, one thing that I think that we have not done as good a job as we should have in the last 3 years—and we're trying to catch up in a big way—the Secretary of Education and I want to expand the work-study program so that by the year 2000, one million American students will be working their way through college with work-study.
And thirdly, and most important of all, we believe that families with incomes of under $100,000 should be able to deduct as much as $10,000 in post-secondary education costs from their taxes, including tuition and fees at any eligible institution, university, or college, private or public, or vocational school. That would benefit 16 1/2 million Americans, the best kind of tax cut we could have.
We give tax relief for businesses that invest in new plants and equipment. If we know we're running on brainpower, why shouldn't we give tax relief to families that invest in education? We ought to do that.
I know that all of you agree with all this. I also know that all of you are trying to come to grips with your part of this equation, which is to do whatever you can to hold down college costs. I was reviewing in my own mind. Being the father of a high school junior, I have to learn to think about this now. One of you will have a chance to make me much poorer before long, perhaps. [Laughter]
But I got to thinking about it. When I went to college, I had a job and a scholarship. And then I went to law school. I had a scholarship, a loan, and, in 3 years, six different jobs. And I enjoyed it all. I not only didn't mind working, I was grateful to have a chance to have the jobs, and I enjoyed being able to support myself, and I was proud when I was able to pay off the last of my loans.
But we know that from that time, when I was in school—nearly 30 years ago now when I finished—to this time, the cost of college as a percentage of a family's income has increased dramatically, that more and more people need more college aid. And I sometimes wonder whether colleges don't get more and more behind by raising tuition costs because you have to keep recycling it in scholarships and loans. They're about double what they were 10 years ago, and of course, as I said, the most significant thing is that the college costs have gone up so much more than middle class incomes have and much, much more than lower middle class incomes have, which—and that's evidenced in the fact that in the last 5 years you see a decline in enrollments among a lot of people in the bottom 20 percent of the income group in America, the very group that used to live the American dream with the greatest pride, so that you've got increasing enrollments as you go up the income scale, which is good, but decreasing enrollment as you go down the income scale, which is bad. We will do what we can to keep up with the scholarships and loans, but anything that can be done to ratchet down the burdens on deserving students is a good thing to do.
I noticed that Muskingum College in Oklahoma—I mean in Ohio—actually lowered its tuition by $4,000. And these notes I have say that North Carolina Wesleyan cut its tuition by 23 percent. I don't know whether they did it by containing costs or praying to God or both. [Laughter] But I think it is a good thing to do wherever possible.
Again, I say to you, we cannot do what we ought to do for America if we increase college enrollment overall, but children who would be disproportionately minority children, but not all, in the bottom 20 percent—or the bottom 30 percent of our income families, are seeing their enrollments decline. Drake University in Des Moines is holding its increase to the rate of inflation. I know that others are giving discounts to certain people. The University of Rio Grande is giving free tuition to high school valedictorians and salutatorians. This kind of innovation and leadership is something I think ought to be encouraged. But I would ask you all to think especially about those kids that are coming out of homes from the bottom 20 percent who are afraid that they can't make it.
The main reason I wanted the direct loan program has nothing to do with all the stuff that I just talked about about it. I wanted it because I thought that every person ought to have the option to borrow money for college and pay it back as a percentage of their income so that if they came from a poor family or if they decided to do jobs that were public service jobs, for example, if they decided to be police officers or schoolteachers or do something else where they would never get rich, they would know that there would never be a single, solitary year when they would be in need because of the payment schedule of their college loans. And I think that's important.
But I say to you again, anything you can do to try to bring down the college burden, especially on that group of our young people, so that all income groups increase their enrollment again is something that we could do together that would make a real difference for America.
The last point I want to make is this: A lot of you have AmeriCorps projects on your campuses. A lot of you who don't have that have some sort of community service project. I think it is very important that the young people of this country have the opportunity to serve while they're in college in some meaningful community service. I think it is very important that when they leave their colleges and universities, they have the idea that they have an obligation to give something back to their country and they understand that the only way we ever get anything done in America is to bridge our differences and work together and to learn by doing in that way.
So I would urge you all to do everything you can to increase the involvement of your students in community service projects. We can change the character of America by changing the attitudes, the approach, the intuitive responses of this young generation, this brilliant, aggressive, intelligent, and energetic group of people toward the idea of community.
I see all these surveys that talk about how pessimistic or cynical people are, but the truth is, cynicism is an excuse for inaction and an awful poor one. It's a poor rationalization for believing that nothing you do makes any difference. And so I ask you all to remember that. You have these people—even though the age of college students is getting increasingly higher, none of us are too old to give a little something back and to be given an opportunity to give something to our community. And you can do that in a unique way that opens up the way people think about America and its future.
I believe—I will say again—I believe that the younger generation today will live in a time of greatest possibility America has ever known. But in order to make it really work, those possibilities have to be available to all Americans who are willing to work for them. And they have to be available in a country that is coming together across its divisions, not drifting apart.
The changing nature of work, the changing nature of work organizations, the changing nature of markets are all putting pressures to divide, to split up, to splinter off an American community that still needs very much to move closer together, to open opportunity to everybody, to tackle our social problems, and to make this country what it ought to be.
There are no people in America better positioned to lead this country in the right direction than you are. Thank you for your fight for higher education, thank you for your fight for student aid. Please, please, take on these other challenges, and let's give this country the kind of future it deserves.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:28 p.m. in the Ticonderoga Room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Anne Die, vice chair, and Michael Adams, chair, board of directors, and David Warren, president, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; and President Jiang Zemin of China.
William J. Clinton, Remarks to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/222098