SYRACUSE – President Obama ended the first day of his upstate swing Tuesday evening by promoting his plan to keep college accessible to all students at a high school in a city that’s noted for trying to do just that.
Repeating many of the themes – and even the phrases – that he uttered in Buffalo six hours earlier, Obama put special emphasis on Syracuse’s pioneering “Say Yes” program, which is now being replicated in Buffalo.
“I wanted to come to Syracuse because you’re doing something fantastic here, with programs like Say Yes,” Obama said.
Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit foundation, set up shop in Syracuse in 2008 with a goal of making sure that any high school student in the city who wanted to go to college would be able to do so.
The program offers free college tuition to any graduate of a Syracuse city high school who has been in the school district for at least three years and has been accepted at Syracuse University or New York’s public colleges. Low- and middle-income students at the city’s private high schools are eligible as well.
Obama said programs such as Say Yes should expand to other communities, and that’s just what’s happening.
“Say Yes is actually a national entity that is also implementing a program here in Buffalo in partnership with local stakeholders,” said Betsy Behrend, communications director for Say Yes Buffalo. “Work here began last year implementing the program that began in Syracuse five years ago.”
Programs such as Say Yes are important, Obama said, for one overarching reason.
“The fact is college has never been more necessary but it’s never been more expensive,” he said.
Reiterating his three-point plan for controlling college costs – including a new government rating system that will rate colleges on their cost-effectiveness – Obama told the students at Henninger High School that college is especially essential in an era where lower-skilled jobs are not as plentiful as they once were.
Noting that college graduates have a far lower unemployment rate than non-college graduates, he said: “Higher education is the single best investment you can make in your future. The single-best.”
Some 1,335 people, including plenty of students, crowded into the gymnasium at the school to hear the president speak.
And while the crowd was a friendly one, the overall welcome Obama received here was a bit rougher than the one he received in Buffalo.
For one thing, Obama’s Syracuse appearance drew far more protesters than his speech in Buffalo.
Well over 100 people lined both sides of the road leading to the school to protest hydraulic fracturing, the controversial natural gas extraction method that Obama supports.
In addition, a couple dozen people gathered to protest the Obama’s refusal to end military aid to Egypt in wake of the recent coup there.
And once Obama started speaking at the high school, an especially boisterous heckler shouted over him, calling for freedom for Pvt. Bradley Manning, the former Army intelligence staffer who leaked a treasure trove of government secrets to WikiLeaks.
As authorities removed the heckler from the hall, Obama said: “As hecklers go, that young lady was very polite … And she brought up an issue of importance, and that’s part of what America is all about.”
The president will hold a town hall in Binghamton today and then speak at Lackawanna University in Scranton, Pa. But between those appearances, there are likely to be unannounced stops on the bus tour such as those that took Obama to Rochester and Seneca Falls on Thursday.
Obama stopped at Magnolia’s Deli and Café in Rochester. After greeting a handful of people enjoying lunch on the sidewalk patio, the president entered the restaurant and sat down at a long table for a discussion of college costs with a group of current and recent University of Rochester students, as well as a professor.
After his stop in Rochester, Obama moved on to Seneca Falls, where he visited the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and bought souvenirs for his daughters, before heading to Syracuse.