In last year's State of the Union address, President Obama put colleges and universities "on notice," bringing attention to his concerns with affordability and accountability in higher education. During his 2013 address, delivered on February 13, President Obama pressed again on these themes, stating, "Through tax credits, grants and better loans, we've made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers can't keep on subsidizing higher and higher and higher costs for higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure that they do." He continued, "So tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid."
In a supplemental White House document, "The President's Plan for A Strong Middle Class & A Strong America," released upon delivery of the State of the Union Address, it became clear that the administration is considering tying measures of value, affordability, and student outcomes to the accreditation process. The document states, "The President will call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results."
Additional details are likely to be included in the release of the FY14 President's Budget Request, which is expected to be released in mid-March. Last year's request underscored the Administration's serious focus on higher education. However, Congress has thus far failed to produce a budget for FY13, thereby stymying any efforts to create the new spending programs proposed last year. The next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, though being discussed seriously in Washington, is still seen as a long-term process, with passage unlikely this year.
A New College Scorecard
Also during the State of the Union, President Obama announced the unveiling of a new "College Scorecard." The Web site allows users to select a college and to create a scorecard that reports the average net price, graduation rate, loan default rate, and median amount borrowed at that institution.
The Scorecard presents a simple tool that provides a narrow look through a financial lens at colleges. Obama promoted the tool in the State of the Union for prospective students as a place where they can "compare schools based on a simple criteria — where you can get the most bang for your educational buck."