MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Today, President Obama visited the University of Texas at Austin. The visit was meant to underscore his goal of making the U.S. number one again in one key measure, the percentage of young people who finish college.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: The U.S. used to lead the world in college graduation, but not anymore. Today, it ranks no higher than 12th, well behind leaders like Korea, Canada, even Russia.
President Obama told students and professors at the University of Texas that's unacceptable.
BARACK OBAMA: If we're serious about making sure America's workers and America itself succeeds in the 21st century, the single most important step we can take is to make sure that every one of our young people; here in Austin, here in Texas, here in the United States of America, has the best education that the world has to offer. That's the number one thing we can do.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HORSLEY: To retake the lead, the U.S. would have to send an extra eight million students through college over the next decade.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan says a better educated workforce is the only way to create a stronger, more vibrant economy.
ARNE DUNCAN: There are no good jobs out there for a high school dropout, none in today's economy. There are almost no good jobs if you just have a high school diploma. Some form of higher education; four-year universities, two-year community colleges, trade, technical, vocational training, whatever it might be, K-12 has to simply be a start of the education journey, not an end point.
HORSLEY: Duncan says in order to boost college graduation rates, the administration is investing in students even before they enter kindergarten and spending billions of dollars in an effort to improve teaching in elementary and high schools.
In Austin, where his audience was already college oriented, Mr. Obama focused his remarks on making college more affordable. He noted that young people who borrow money for school now graduate with almost 25 percent more debt than they did just five years ago.
OBAMA: I understand this personally because Michelle and I, we had big loans to pay off when we graduated. I remember what that felt like.
HORSLEY: The president offered no new proposals today, but recapped the steps his administration has taken to make it easier to pay for college, including giving more and bigger Pell Grants. The government has also stopped using banks as middlemen in the college loan process, saving an estimated $60 billion over the next decade.
OBAMA: We're redirecting that money to you, to make college more affordable for nearly eight million students and families across this country.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HORSLEY: The president's college speech was sandwiched in between a pair of Democratic fundraisers in Austin and Dallas, Texas. But the Democratic candidate for governor, Bill White, kept his distance. With Mr. Obama's approval rating hovering in the mid-40s nationally and considerably lower in Texas, some Democrats feel it's best not to get too close to him. It was a very different picture three and a half years ago when Mr. Obama held one of his first presidential campaign rallies in Austin and drew some 20,000 people.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
OBAMA: Because you believed in an America where all of us, not just some of us, but all of us, no matter what we look like, no matter where we come from, all of us can reach for our dreams.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's message today is that reaching those dreams is easier from the elevation of a college education.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.