What Will Be the Obama Administration’s Legacy on Education Policy?

This article was written by Logan Harper, community manager for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government’s online MPA program, MPA@UNC – a top degree for public service leaders. Follow MPA@UNC on Twitter at @MPAatUNC.

Education has become a hot topic again as the U.S. trails away from a recession and as the public’s attentions focuses on global competition.

President Obama recognizes education as a vital component to growth in America, often citing education as imperative. The president has articulated provisions for a comprehensive education program since his first term and most recently in his second term State of the Union Address.

Years from now in review, new generations and experts alike will look through the legacy scope and feel the impact left behind by the Obama Administration’s education policy evaluating his failure and success. Here are some highlights so far from the President’s educational timeline from Early 2008 to the present:

1.Early Childhood Education

2008: High-Quality Zero to Five Early Education: Obama will launch a Children’s First Agenda that provides care, learning and support to families with children from birth up to five years old.
 Source: Campaign booklet,“Blueprint for Change”, p. 20-23 Feb 2, 2008

2013: “Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.” – 2013 State of the Union

Obama has maintained the importance of early childhood education from the halls of the White House to the classrooms in Atlanta, GA. Since he first began his bid for Presidency in 2007, his platform on early childhood education and preschool has remained steady.

Following his 2013 State Of The Union Address, President Obama visited a preschool in Decatur, GA –as Georgia ranks at the top of pre-k programs in the nation–to promote his agenda and plan to expand access to early childhood; with key initiatives to close the “achievement gap” and open doors for children from lower income families and communities.

He has encouraged states to raise the bar by investing $600 million the Race to the Top , a program aimed at providing assistance to families and preparing children for the world ahead.

Middle/High School K-12

2008: In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity–it is a prerequisite. And yet, we have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. Source: 2009 State of the Union address

2013: Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. 2013 State of the Union address

President Obama has raised alarms for high school dropout rates before and is creating reform initiatives to prevent students from falling off the learning track and on a route to a secure job.

In his 2013 State of the Union address, he declared a new proposition to Race to the Top by offering rewards to schools that help promote and establish relationships with employers and industries in order to counterweight the growing technological climate and increased competition in the job landscape. In doing so, President Obama believes this will prepare students from an early age.

Higher Education

2009: I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. (State of the Union address 2009).
2013: Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. (State of the Union address 2013).

Almost half of the students who begin college at a two- or four-year institution fail to earn a degree within six years while an average college tuition without financial aid is reported to be at $22,261. In addition, according to The White House. The average loan accumulated amounts to more than $26,000 after graduating college. Student loan debt continues to amass and serves as one of the major obstacles young professionals face in concurrence with the unemployment rate just under 8%.

The aggregation of these problems has put affordable college and financial relief to higher education at the forefront of Obama’s education policy and disputable, his main focus in efforts to solve countless problems facing our education system.

In the first few years of his first term, he was able to push through an increase in funding for Pell Grant, expanding grant recipients by up to 50%. He also vies to help relieve student loan debt through decreasing interest rates by designing the “pay as you earn” program; helping to cap repayment loans and creating a new income based plan for students. To offer some monetary relief, The American Opportunity Tax credit offers education tax credits to assist students and families. Currently, over 9.4 million people have benefited from this program.

While Pre-K to College is usually the framework for your typical learning track, Technical Career training and the Military may be the route more rewarding and suitable for some.

Technical/Career Training

With the rise of Millennials and Gen Y and the surge of advanced technology, President Obama and his policies regarding Technical and Career training has established programs to match the growth of our economy and the need for specialized training and jobs alike. By implementing the “Educate to Innovate” package, his administration hopes to increase the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in promoting fields that are often less explored and in clear demand.

He also announced that $500 million will be appropriated to community college grants to expand job training through local employer partnerships as a part of the ETA Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative. These plans promote skills development and expand employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships among training providers and local employers.


Last year, President Obama enacted a new law that would crack down on abuse in federal programs to protect military members, veterans and families pursuing an education seemingly targeted by for-profit colleges. It is estimated that between 2006-2010, these companies acquired more than $500 million.

The President Obama’s executive orders ensued as a result and further investigations continue. On the other hand, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY13 (NDAA FY13) on January 2, 2013. This bill is enacted to assist and fund education for children of military families. This act will supplement $5 million to communities that are impacted by closures, relocations, and structural changes that have encumbered students from receiving proper education and furthermore, support military children with disabilities.


With another 3 years left in office we are sure to see the administration continue its previously outlined efforts. The legacy of the administration’s education policy, however, may not become clear for many more years.

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