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 — Obama detailed the plan for a crowd of roughly 7,000 inside UB’s Alumni Arena on move-in day, as about 5,000 students descended on campus, mini-fridges and futons in tow.

UB President Satish Tripathi welcomed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who spoke briefly prior to Obama’s arrival, as live footage of Air Force One landing at Buffalo International Airport played on the arena’s big screens to roaring applause.

In addition to the rating system, Obama also spelled out proposed changes designed to help spur competition among colleges through innovation, including pathways to earning degrees more quickly, promoting courses for college credit among high school students and online credits.

In his third proposal, Obama hinted at an improved framework to help graduates who’ve taken on debt manage it, suggesting a graduate’s monthly loan payment should be capped at 10 percent of their post-graduation income.

“Government shouldn’t view student loans as a way to make money, it should be to help students,” he said. “Our national mission ought to be how to profit off of having the best educated workforce in the world.”

Following the president’s remarks, Tripathi said he believes UB would rank well under the new criteria, and pointed to tuition and student debt reportedly below national averages for similar public research universities.

UB’s tuition and fees for the fall 2012 semester were $7,989, not including room and board or textbooks, while the average for national public research universities is $9,029, according to school officials. The average for AAU public universities is $11,096, according to the Office of University Communications.

When asked how Obama’s planned initiatives would hold up under the school’s UB2020 initiative, which could allow for higher tuition, Tripathi was optimistic.

When it was unveiled in 2006, the UB2020 strategic plan was aimed at pushing the university into the top tier of the nation’s public research institutions, including hiring new faculty, expanding course offerings and, most notably, moving its School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to the expanding Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo.

“If you look at our graduation rates we’re doing well, as well, so we really are doing what the president is trying to do,” Tripathi said. “We are working in that direction.”

The trip was Obama’s second to the region during his presidency. In May 2010, Obama visited a manufacturing facility in Buffalo to tout his economic recovery programs.

Contact Neale Gulley at 693-1000, ext. 4115.

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