By Gina Martinez
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew visited Queens College Tuesday to participate in a student town hall meeting about the nation’s recovering economy and federal aid for CUNY.
In the conversation with students moderated by NPR business anchor David Brancaccio, Lew discussed the renewed economic health of the United States and the role financial reform and growth in the global economy played in the turnaround.
Lew, a Queens native, graduated from Forest Hills High School before attending Harvard. He served as director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration from 1998 to 2001 and then for President Obama from 2010 to 2012. In 2013 he became secretary of the treasury.
Around 100 students packed the Rosenthal Library auditorium. Lew spoke with Brancaccio before students took to the microphone and asked the secretary pressing questions about the economy, which fell into a deep recession in 2008 because of the mortgage crisis.
“Around the world people look at the United States as a model of resilience because we bounced back,” Lew said. “We created 15 million new jobs, we have an economy that’s been growing. The challenge we have is how to make sure the rest of the world grows and how do we grow faster.”
One student asked what could be done on a federal level to address the needs at CUNY.
“Queens College and CUNY in general is an extraordinary asset for New York City,” he said. “My sister went to Queens College and my aunt. So we have a long history in our family of taking advantage of the fact that there’s an affordable college education available here at Queens College. At a federal level we do things like Pell grants that go a long way for those in financial need.”
Lew acknowledged that the current $6,600 tuition was low by national standards, but it still increased from $4,200 in 2009 for a 50 percent increase. Lew explained that the pressure on public budgets could be a factor for a raise in tuition.
“I don’t know that there’s direct federal assistance that would be unique to a public system like CUNY,” he said. “But I do think that making sure we pay for Pell grants and have other forms of assistance for students who are in need is important. We need to make sure we run student loan programs in a way that it provides understandable and affordable financing and repayment terms that are consistent with opening opportunities, not closing opportunities. Those are the kinds of things we should do on a federal level.”
Lew also discussed the redesigning of currency to add a woman for the first time in U.S. history, a story that caused controversy earlier this year when announced.
“I was very proud to announce that we’re going to redesign our currency,” he said. “Putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, introducing our $10 and $5 bill themes that reflect the broader history of our great country, including some of the great iconic events that happened at the Lincoln memorial and the history of women’s suffrage.”
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