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Pres. Obama speaking on college affordabilty in Buffalo. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/governorandrewcuomo/9572844040">Office of Gov. Cuomo</a>
Pres. Obama speaking on college affordabilty in Buffalo. Photo: Office of Gov. Cuomo

Obama tours his education plan upstate

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President Obama cruised across Upstate New York yesterday in his black "Ground Force One" tour bus. Hundreds of people cheered and snapped pictures as the bus rumbled down the streets of Rochester.

President Obama started the day at the University of Buffalo, where he launched his reform plan to cut the cost of college. Obama says an affordable education is an "economic imperative", but the high debt people rack up after college must end.

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"Higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America, and if we don't do something about keeping it within reach, it will create problems for economic mobility for generations to come. And that's not acceptable. So, whether we're talking about a two-year program, a four-year program, a technical certificate—bottom line is, higher education cannot be a luxury."

Obama proposed a new college rating system that would measure a college’s value. And he encouraged using on-line technology to speed up schooling for college students so they finish faster and pay less. 

"We're going to jump-start new competition between colleges, not just on the field or in the court, but in terms of innovation that encourages affordability, and encourages student success, and doesn't sacrifice educational quality."

The president also spoke at a high school in Syracuse, and outlined a three-pronged plan to make college more affordable for the middle class. As WRVO's Ellen Abbott reports, the president says educational opportunity should be a high priority in Washington.

Screams were deafening when Obama walked on to the podium at Henninger High School, and the supportive crowd hung on every word as the President outlined an education proposal that would work towards: "Increasing value, so young people and their parents know what they're getting when they go college, encouraging innovation so that more colleges are giving better value, and then helping people responsibly manage their debt."

And that, says Obama, will equal more students being able to afford college.

A lynchpin of the plan would rate colleges and then link those results to federal financial aid for students attending those schools. The positive vibe was broken briefly by a pair of hecklers, one of whom held a Free Bradley Manning sign.

"Can I just say that as hecklers go, that lady was very polite, she was, and she brought up an issue of importance, and that's what America's all about."

As thousands excitedly waited in line to see President Obama at the University of Buffalo yesterday, others demonstrated in the hopes of delivering their own political message to the president. The Innovation Trail's Ashley Hirtzel talked with protesters waiting outside Alumni Arena.

More than a dozen protestors were calling on the president to change his stance on a multitude of issues. But, the majority of protestors were there to urge the President to ban the controversial gas drilling practice known as hydrofracking.

Rita Yelda is with Food and Water Watch. She says they were hoping to get the chance to meet the president.

“We’re also asking that he reopen that investigation in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The EPA’s own findings found water contamination in Pennsylvania, and instead of doing something about it the EPA closed the case and told people that their water was safe. There are people that still have brown water, foul smelling water and they have absolutely no recourse.”

John Keevert drove from Rochester to Buffalo to join the group of fracking protestors. He says he wants the president to move away from using natural gas and towards renewables.

“We have enough solar and wind to two or three times fill the need of energy for the U.S. It’s just a matter of investing the technology to build the infrastructure. We applaud him for recognizing the importance of global warming and we are hoping that he will get something passed.”

Another group on the scene, who didn’t want to comment on tape, were there to support the president’s rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

Garrett Dicembre with the Buffalo and International Action Center was there to urge the President to reduce America’s role in the Middle East.

“I would be telling him to get his bases and the military out of all of the countries around the world, where they should not be, to stop bombing these countries, and to stop sponsoring that kind of terrorism, because the world can do without it—to put that money towards things here like universal healthcare and education,”

Protesters didn’t get their chance to see the President, who entered through a back entrance. The crowd drifted away as soon as they heard President Obama was inside Alumni Arena.

Anti-fracking protesters in Binghamton today. Photo: Kate O'Connell/WXXI
Anti-fracking protesters in Binghamton today. Photo: Kate O'Connell/WXXI
Supporters and opponents of natural gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" plan to put on a show for the president when his bus pulls into Binghamton this morning. The city is in a likely area for drilling to begin if Gov. Cuomo lifts a five-year moratorium and allows fracking in New York's part of the Marcellus Shale, which stretches through Pennsylvania into West Virginia and Ohio.

Obama has spoken in favor of shale gas development. Cuomo acknowledges the economic advantages, but says he's still looking at environmental and health implications.

Opposition groups are urging members to make a big showing on the Binghamton University campus today. The pro-gas Joint Landowners Coalition of New York is holding a rally in a nearby park.

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