Obama on the road, promotes higher education

ObamaPresident Barack Obama’s late-summer dash for campaign cash is picking up with two high-dollar fundraisers in Texas for the Democratic Party.

His other business Monday will be a speech underscoring his commitment to higher education, although no new policy announcements are expected.

From Washington to New York City to Atlanta to Chicago, Obama has headlined events to raise millions of dollars in recent days for his party. The push comes as looming midterm congressional elections in November will determine whether his party can maintain its grip on power in the House and the Senate.

In Austin, Obama will raise money for the Democratic National Committee; in Dallas, he will do the same for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Conspicuously absent from the trip is any appearance with Texas’ Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Bill White. Some Democratic candidates have been wary of appearing with the president given voters’ concerns about his stewardship of the economy and other issues.

White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One that the president was not insulted by White’s absence.

“He think candidates should make their own decisions” about how best to spend their time, said Burton.

“There’s never been a president in the history of this great country who’s been wanted by every single candidate,” Burton said.

In between the fundraisers will come a presidential speech at the University of Texas in Austin, one in which Obama will comprehensively recap the steps he and the Democratic-led Congress have taken to make college more affordable and to significantly increase the number of college students who actually finish with degrees.

Obama has made education reform a priority, albeit one overshadowed by the sour economy, health care, other domestic matters and two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sandwiching an official speech in Texas between his political appearances also lets the White House bill taxpayers rather than the party committees for most of the trip’s costs.

Obama’s oft-stated goal is to restore the United States as the leader in college attainment by 2020. That would require about 60 percent of people ages 25 to 34 to hold an associate’s degree or a bachelor degree ? up from about the 40 percent who have them now.

Put another way, the U.S. and its array of community colleges and four-year institutions would have to produce an additional 8 million graduates, on top of the current pace of expected graduations, over the next decade, said Cecilia Rouse, a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Obama is expected to spend most of his speech reminding people of what’s been done during his tenure to help students access and afford college, from simplified financial aid forms and bigger Pell Grants to greater workforce training at community colleges and support for higher standards in the earlier grades.

Just over half of students who start four-year bachelor’s degree programs full-time finish within six years; less than 3 in 10 students who enroll in community colleges full time finish with an associate’s degree within two years, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group working to fix the problem.

The president will put all his education goals in the context of improving the economy, the key concern for an electorate that is demanding faster results.

In the early days of Obama’s presidential campaign ? way back in February 2007 ? he spoke in Austin at a rally that drew an estimated 20,000 people on a rainy day.

“In some ways, he’s returning to a place that has great value to him,” said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer. “It was an important moment.”

The fundraising event in Austin is expected to generate between $750,000 and $1 million for the DNC. No estimates were available on the other fundraiser.

Source: The Associated Press.