Niagara Gazette

Local News

August 23, 2013

Obama seeks 'better bargain' for college

In return to WNY, Obama outlines major changes to nation's higher education system

Niagara Gazette — AMHERST — President Barack Obama on Thursday became the first sitting president since Millard Fillmore in 1853 to speak at the University at Buffalo, as he outlined a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s higher education system aimed at delivering “a better bargain” for the middle class.

“We can’t price the middle class and everybody trying to get into the middle class out of a higher education,” he said, adding that keeping soaring tuition costs in check is an “economic imperative” that, if not addressed, could “stifle economic mobility for generations.”

Citing his administration’s own estimates, Obama said average tuition to the nation’s public four-year colleges and universities has increased by 250 percent in the last three decades, while income has risen just 16 percent over the same period. He said the projected cost of a higher education has become “a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt.” 

An average college student now graduates from a four-year school saddled with $26,000 in debt.

“The system’s current trajectory is not sustainable,” he said before proposing a three-part reform initiative. 

His first proposal is the creation of a new government rating system for colleges and universities to help students and parents more accurately judge a school’s affordability and cost-effectiveness. A college’s rating would in turn dictate the disbursement of federal aid to students.

The plan, based on criteria yet to be determined, ideally would be implemented prior to the 2015 school year, he said, and would take into account graduation rates, average tuition, student loan debt and a student’s earning potential after graduation as factors in the school’s overall performance rating.

“There are schools out there that have higher default rates than graduation rates,” Obama said. “It’s time to stop rewarding schools that are not producing results.”

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