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Obama Outlines Details of College Affordability Proposals

In a speech this morning at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, President Barack Obama reiterated the call in his State of the Union address for colleges to keep tuition down and announced efforts to make costs and performance of schools more transparent so students can make informed choices.

"This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of all who are willing to work for it, and that's part of what helped to create this economic miracle and build the largest middle class in history," said Obama. "Now we've moved to an information age, a digitalized age, a global economy. We've got to make that same commitment today."

Obama is proposing a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions that students could use to compare schools based on their needs, affordability, and career and educational goals. Colleges also would have to collect earnings and employment information so students can get a sense of the job outcomes they could expect, according to a fact sheet just released by the Administration.

"Parents like getting report cards," said Obama. "From now on, parents and students deserve to know how a college is doing—how affordable is it, how well are its students doing? We want you to know how well a car stacks up before you buy it. You should know how well a college stacks up."

The administration also would like make the financial aid shopping sheet, announced in October, a requirement for all schools to make it easier for families to compare college financial aid packages.

To pressure colleges to keep tuition down, the president proposes linking federal student aid to college performance. Schools that keep tuition low and graduate a relatively large share of Pell Grant-eligible students would be rewarded with a larger share of money through Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), Perkins Loans, and Work Study.

"I'm telling Congress we should steer federal campus-based aid to those colleges that keep tuition affordable, provide good value, serve their students well," Obama said today. "We are putting colleges on notice ... you can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down. We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don't."

The president acknowledged in his speech that state budget cuts have been the largest factor in tuition increases at public colleges over the past decade. He would like to challenge states to come up with innovative ways of improving higher education in this tight economic climate. The administration is proposing a new $1 billion Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion competition. The program would push states to revamp the structure of state financing for higher education; align entry and exit standards with K-12 education and colleges; and maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education.

"We're telling the states, if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we'll help you do it," said Obama. "We will give you additional federal support if you are doing a good job of making sure that all of you aren't loaded up with debt when you graduate from college."

In Michigan, the president also promoted the idea of extending the federal tuition tax credits, doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years, and keeping federal student loan interest rates down — all outlined in Tuesday's State of the Union speech.

All these proposals would need the approval of Congress to move forward.

For more, see the Politics K-12 blog today and The New York Times.


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