Obama Tackles College Affordability at Michigan
By MAXWELL REINHARDT
Last Friday, Jan. 27, President Barack Obama’s long-awaited rally at the University of Michigan began. The numbers were overwhelming. Thousands of students gathered in the early morning hours, in the frigid cold, clamoring for a chance to hear the president’s world-renowned oratory.
America’s college students are currently the most alert political audience in the country. In last Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, Obama addressed the crippling burden of skyrocketing college tuition rates.
“When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college,” said Obama.
He also called on Congress to extend the tuition tax credit set to expire in July.
However, Obama also asserted that continuing current subsidies alone would not make college more affordable. He called on state governments to make higher education a fiscal priority at a time when many governors and state legislatures are cutting school subsidies to balance their budgets.
Every state constitution, with the exception of Vermont, has an amendment that requires the government to balance its budget.
Obama also put colleges and universities on notice, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury—it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”
At his Michigan rally, Obama proposed tying federal funding for higher education to affordability and economic outcomes, similar to President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy that tied funding for K-12 schools to standardized test scores.
The Obama administration has used this method in its attempts to reduce the debts that are incurred by students of for-profit colleges. New regulations, set by the Department of Education, cut off funding to schools that produce graduates that are unable to repay their loans and find good-paying jobs.
These proposed reforms are making bigwigs in higher education cringe. David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, told the New York Times, “The answer is not going to come from more federal controls on colleges or states, or by telling families to judge the value of an education by the amount young graduates earn in the first few years after they graduate.”
This laissez-faire attitude is unusual in the left-wing world of academia, where greater government oversight of industry is often suggested as a solution to society’s economic ills.
High-priced sports programs, glitzy new facilities, and new more luxurious dormitories are part of the reason that college tuition rates have gone up over the past few years, but they are also used to attract new students to the colleges. Budget cuts at the state level have also contributed to the rising cost of college.
However, not all of Obama’s proposals were rejected by the higher education establishment. His plan to double the number of work-study jobs and expand the pool of money available for Perkins loans was well received, according to the New York Times.
No official plan has been committed to paper yet, so the higher education establishment is still unsure how it will reduce the cost of college and comply with whatever new regulations are implemented all the while increasing enrollment and student retention.
As Molly Corbett Broad, the President of the American Council on Education put it “The devil is in the details, and we don’t know the details yet.”