With his education agenda stalled in Congress, President Obama on Thursday urged Gregory W. Gray, Connecticut’s President of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, and dozens of other university presidents to share each other’s methods of expanding access to higher education.

“More than ever a college degree is the surest path to a stable middle class life,” Obama said at a White House conference on opening the door to college for more students, especially low-income youths.

Gray, appointed last summer to head the Board of Regents, which runs the Connecticut State Universities and community colleges, said “there is no easy solution” to the problem of declining enrollment, especially among the poorest Americans.

“We simply cannot drive them away because of higher tuition costs,” he said.

Gray, who was on his first visit to the White House, said he is working to stabilize tuition costs and has a “bigger dream” of someday even driving them down.

But college tuition at his 16 colleges and at the University of Connecticut (run by a separate president and governing board) jumped this year.

Gray said he’s also concerned about keeping kids in college and lowering the dropout rate.

But he’s swimming against a tide.

According the U.S. Census, college enrollment in the United States dropped by almost a half-million students in 2012, after rising steadily between 2006 and 2011.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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