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Obama: Free Tuition "Absolutely Realistic"

Joyce Russell/IPR
President Barack Obama at North High School in Des Moines

President Barack Obama Monday spent more than an hour in conversation with students, teachers and parents at North High School in Des Moines, talking about how to make college more affordable.

The president urged students and their parents to do everything they can to win some of the 150 billion dollars in annual federal student aid each year to avoid big debt on graduation, and to use new federal tools to rank schools for quality and affordability. 

He also unveiled a new plan to simplify applying for federal student aid.

One parent complained that families aren’t rewarded enough for saving for college.   And students quizzed the president about federal budget cuts that may reduce student aid.       

Senior Elena Hicks asked about the president’s plan for free community college tuition.     

"Do you think it’s possible or realistic?" Hicks asked. 

"I absolutely think it’s realistic to have the first two years of community college free," the president replied.  "It's in my budget and I know how to pay for it."

Another student asked him to rank the large field of Republican presidential candidates on their education views.   He offered some indirect criticism.

"If you hear a candidate say that the problem with education is teachers," Obama says, "you should not vote for that candidate."

However, the president admits his administration has sometimes clashed with teachers unions.  

North High school has a majority population of minority students and the president praised the school’s achievements in boosting student performance.     

He told a Hispanic student that students brought here as children by undocumented parents should be able to get federal student aid.  

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio wrote an op-ed in the Des Moines Register Monday,  saying the president’s education proposals fall short.