Late last week, several days after President Obama announced new proposed federal policies focused on the availability of affordable quality higher education, details emerged about how the Obama Administration would go about achieving this goal.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for a comprehensive approach to tackling rising college costs. In a speech at the University of Michigan President Obama provided additional details about the framework by which he will work with Congress to establish a set of policies focused on increasing post-secondary education opportunities in the U.S.
The proposal put forth by the President would include several components.
- Reform student aid to promote affordability and value: To keep tuition from spiraling too high and drive greater value, the President will propose reforms to federal campus-based air programs to shift aid away from colleges that fail to keep net tuition down, and toward those colleges and universities that do their fair share to keep tuition affordable, provide good value, and serve needy students well. These changes in federal aid to campuses will leverage $10 billion annually to keep tuition down. The President’s plan calls for shared responsibility between the federal government, states, and institutions of higher education to tackle rising college costs by improving the distribution of federal financial aid and increase campus-based aid. This reform will reward colleges that are succeeding in meeting the following principles:
- Setting responsible tuition policy, offering relatively lower net tuition prices and/or restraining tuition growth.
- Providing good value to students and families, offering quality education and training that prepares graduates to obtain employment and repay their loans.
- Serving low-income students, enrolling and graduating relatively higher numbers of Pell-eligible students.
In his proposal the President is proposing to change how funds for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOGs), Perkins Loans, and Work Study are distributed by implementing an improved formula that shifts aid from schools with rising tuition to those acting responsibly, focused on setting responsible tuition policy, providing good value in education, and ensuring that higher numbers of low-income students complete their education. He is also proposing to increase the amount of campus-based aid to $10 billion annually. The increase is primarily driven by an expansion of loans in the federal Perkins program – which comes at no additional taxpayer cost.
Under his plan colleges that can show that they are providing students with good long-term value will be rewarded with additional dollars to help students attend. Those that show poor value, or who don’t act responsibly in setting tuition, will receive less federal campus-based aid. Students will receive the greatest government grant and loan support at colleges where they are likely to be best served, and little or no campus aid will flow to colleges that fail to meet affordability and value standards.
- Create a Race to the Top for college affordability and completion: The president will create incentives for states and colleges to keep costs under control through a $1billion investment in a new challenge to states to spur higher education reform focused on affordability and improved outcomes across state colleges and universities. The Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion will reward states who are willing to drive systemic change in their higher education policies and practices, while doing more to contain their tuition and make it easier for students to earn a college degree.The President is proposing a program that would spur systemic state reforms to reduce costs for students and promote success in our higher education system at public colleges. This $1 billion investment would incentivize states to: (1) Revamp the structure of state financing for higher education; (2) Align entry and exit standards with K-12 education and colleges to facilitate on-time completion; and (3) Maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education in order to address important long-term causes of cost growth at the public institutions that serve two-thirds of four-year college students. The intention is that the Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion would incentivize governors and state legislatures around the nation to act on spurring this innovative reform. Through cost-saving measures like redesigning courses and making better use of education technology, institutions can keep costs down to provide greater affordability for students.
- A first in the World competition to model innovation and quality on college campuses: The president will invest $55 million in a new First in the World competition, to support the public and private colleges and non-profit organizations as they work to develop and test the next breakthrough strategy that will boost higher education attainment and student outcomes. The new program will also help scale-up those innovative and effective practices that have been proven to boost productivity and enhance teaching and learning on college campuses. This initiative would provide modest start-up funding for individual colleges, including private colleges, for projects that could lead to longer-term and larger productivity improvements among colleges and universities – such as course redesign through the improved use of technology, early college preparation activities to lessen the need for remediation, competency-based approaches to gaining college credit, and other ideas aimed at spurring changes in the culture of higher education.
- Better data for families choose the right college for them: The president will call for a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions, designed to provide the essential information about college costs, graduation rates, and potential earnings, all in an easy-to-read format that will help students and families choose a college that is well suited to their needs, priced affordably and consistent with their career and educational goals. The Administration will create a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions making it easier for students and families to choose a college that is best suited to their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their career and educational goals. The administration will also make an updated version of the ‘Financial Aid Shopping Sheet,’ announced in October, a required template for all colleges, rather than a voluntary tool, to make it easier for families to compare college financial aid packages. Finally, the President is also proposing to begin collecting earnings and employment information for colleges, so that students can have an even better sense of the post post-graduation outcomes they can expect.
- Federal Support to Tackle College Costs In his State of the Union, President Obama called on Congress to: (1) Keep student loan interest rates low. This summer, the interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans are set to double from 3.4% to 6.8% – a significant burden at a time when the economy is still fragile and students are taking on increasing amounts of debt to earn a degree. The President is asking Congress to prevent that hike from taking place for a year to keep student debt down, a proposal that will keep interest rates low for 7.4 million student loan borrowers and save the average student over a thousand dollars; (2) Double the number of work-study jobs available: The President also proposes to double the number of career-related work-study opportunities so that students are able to gain valuable work-related experience while in school; and (3) Maintain our commitment to college affordability: Over 9 million students and families per year take advantage of the Obama Administration’s American Opportunity Tax Credit – supporting up to $10,000 over four years of college. In his State of the Union address, the President called on Congress to make this tax credit permanent and prevent it from expiring in 2012.
Though many within higher education support the President’s intentions to provide access to an affordable quality education, many are concerned that the lack of recognition regarding the dramatic decline in funding at the state and local levels and the need for flexibility to manage these unprecedented time within the President’s framework may lead to greater harm than good.