In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama challenged every American to go to college for at least one year and said dropping out of high school is "quitting on your country."
To help those who can not afford rising tuition, the president called on Congress to pass a bill jointly sponsored by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.
"If you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure you can afford a higher education," said Obama, mentioning Hatch and Kennedy by name.
That’s a reference to the Serve America Act, which would seek to attract 175,000 new volunteers at a cost of $5 billion over the next five years.
The bill would provide college stipends to those who agree to volunteer for one year. The legislation would expand the Americorps program by developing five new "corps," creating volunteer programs in the areas of education, health care, energy efficiency, unemployment retraining and disaster response.
Hatch and Kennedy have promised to find a way to offset the cost so it wouldn’t add to the national debt.
Hatch said the bill "promotes personal and community responsibility." He expects the bill to get a first hearing by the end of March.
"I was pleased he mentioned it; I have been pushing it with him," Hatch said.
The president also pushed parents to help their children and promised broad education reform, but ultimately said it is up to each person to gain an education.
"Dropping out of high school is no longer an option," Obama said. "It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country."
Utah has one of the highest graduation rates in the nation, which in 2008 was about 88 percent. Still, that means more than 4,000 Utahns dropped out of high school last year.
Utah’s Latino population has a much lower graduation rate than the public at large, coming in at only 69 percent. Latinos made up nearly 14 percent of the state’s school population.