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Biden and Duncan Push for Need to Keep College Affordable

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Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan went on the road today in Gahanna, Ohio, to talk about the need for colleges to contain costs to keep higher education within reach of everyday Americans.

"We have to make sure that going to college stays a fundamental part of the American dream," said Duncan, speaking at Lincoln High School.

He outlined efforts by the Obama administration to simplify federal financial-aid forms, increase funding for Pell Grants, improve repayment terms on student loans, and maintain higher education tax credits.

"We have to challenge universities to do their part. They can't keep increasing tuition rates faster than inflation," said Duncan. He praised campuses that have capped tuition and gone to three-year degree programs to save money. Students need to be savvy and make good choices, so they are aware of the cost of college, he added.

"The goal is not to go, the goal is to graduate," which may take three, four—or, as Duncan said, five years in his case. "Whatever it takes to get you across the finish line."

Biden shared his personal story of growing up in Scranton, Pa., in a middle-class family that struggled to come up with tuition money. He also joked about his own, relative low net worth that he blamed on paying 20 years of private college tuition for his kids. Still, one of his children finished law school with $110,000 in debt and another owing $68,000.

To help put his kids through school, the vice president said he borrowed against the value of his home—something that is not available to many families today who owe more on their homes than they are worth. The "perfect storm of economic policies that nearly bankrupted the country" makes it harder for parents to afford college, Biden said. By trying to turn around misplaced priorities in government spending, the administration wants to make college more reachable for middle-class families, he said.

"When we came to office, we had a lot in common," said Biden, speaking of himself, his wife, Jill, and President and Mrs. Obama. "We all know we'd never be in the position we are now if it were not for the help we got with scholarships, loans, and grants for our education."

He highlighted the administration's new cap on loan repayments at 10 percent of a person's discretionary income. Without such a policy, the need to make payments could limit a new graduate's options, such as working for a nonprofit or pursuing life as an entrepreneur, he said.

Despite the rising cost of college, Biden said it was worth the investment, citing studies on the increased earning potential over a lifetime with a degree versus a high school diploma. He also talked about the increased independence and confidence that comes with higher education.

"We can't afford to let people lose faith in the possibility," said Biden. "We are determined to make sure it doesn't recede from the dream."

Photo: Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sit on stage at an event about college affordability at Lincoln High School on Jan. 12 in Gahanna, Ohio. Biden talked about the high cost of a college education and the Obama administration's efforts to make it more affordable. (Jay LaPrete/AP)

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