On August 22, in a speech at the University at Buffalo, President Obama unveiled a comprehensive plan to address college costs. "A higher education is the single best investment you can make in your future," said Obama. The cost of a college degree, however, he described as "a barrier and a burden for too many American families."
The stop in Buffalo was his first on a two-day bus tour across upstate New York and northeast Pennsylvania, where he visited campuses to press forward with his college affordability agenda. The centerpiece of his proposal is the development of a new college rating system, which he is asking Congress to tie to the allocation of federal student aid.
The Department of Education is expected to move forward swiftly on elements of the plan that do not require congressional approval—including the new rating system. Other proposals are likely to become part of the negotiations over reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
An official White House fact sheet can be found here that outlines the Obama College Affordability Plan. Here are the highlights:
- A new ratings system that "puts a fundamental premium on measuring value" to be in place before the 2015‒16 academic year. Measures would be tied to access, affordability, and outcomes, including earnings and advanced degrees of college graduates.
- Tying student aid to those ratings, the Obama plan would transform the way federal aid is allocated beginning in 2018‒19, if Congress approves the idea. Students attending higher-performing colleges would receive larger Pell Grants.
- A Race to the Top for Higher Education, to "spur state higher education reforms and reshape the federal-state partnership by ensuring that states maintain funding for public higher education."
- Student academic progress requirements specifying that students complete a certain percentage of their classes before receiving continued funding. Another proposal would "disburse student aid over the course of the semester as students face expenses, rather than in a lump sum at the beginning of the semester, so students who drop out do not receive Pell Grants for time they are not in school."
- Tools to promote innovation, such as a $260 million "First in the World" fund to test new approaches and regulatory waivers for "experimental sites" undertaking efforts to improve quality and outcomes.
- Student loan reforms to enable all borrowers to qualify for "Pay As You Earn"—a plan that caps loan payments at 10 percent of monthly income—and a corresponding enrollment campaign to help borrowers learn more about repayment options.
The coming months will bring many opportunities to weigh in on the President's plan, through public forums and the regulatory process. NACUBO's staff will provide additional information about the President's plan through Current, Business Officer magazine, and other avenues; seek feedback; and weigh in with policy makers.
As students, families, and the general public question the value of higher education, and as the White House shines this spotlight on your institutions, we urge you to participate in the public discourse. NACUBO also encourages you to share your observations and concerns with us through firstname.lastname@example.org.