Can Obama Help Make College Affordable?

Can Obama Help Make College Affordable?


President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Jan. 24, 2012, covered a number of topics. Higher education was one of his themes.

Obama, who is seeking a second term, proposed building a sustainable economy one that is “…built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.” To get America to that place, the president said that rising college costs need to be contained, calling higher education a “prerequisite for all” and not simply a privilege for those that can afford it. Specifically, Obama laid out a plan to raise the number of college graduates by 2020, an effort that would enable America to once again lead the world by having the greatest share of people who have a college degree.

The president’ s emphasis on reining in college costs while still providing education that is of value is not a new one. That it came up during the state of the union address should be no surprise either as the federal government funds student loans through Stafford loans and offers grants through its Pell grant program.

Obama proposed five points to help make higher education more affordable for today’s families.

1. Reform student aid. The president proposed tying campus-based aid programs to holding tuition costs down. Those colleges that serve needy students well and keep tuition affordable while still offering a good value would receive more aid from the federal government. Obama proposed investing $10 billion for this program.

2. Race to the top. States that improve their public colleges and universities and hold down costs would be part of a “race to the top” program that would be backed by $1 billion in federal funding.

3. First in the World competition. Obama proposed a $55 million investment to help the U.S. regain the position as the country with the highest percentage of adults with at least an associate degree. In 2010, the New York Times noted that Canada had the highest percentage of grads, with 56 percent of its adult population possessing at least an associate degree. The U.S., which had led for years, is now in 12th place with just over 40 percent of its adults with at least a 2-year degree.

4. Improved college choice data. A College Scorecard for every degree-granting institution would help families make better choices when it comes to higher education. Obama argued that this scorecard would include data based on college costs, graduation rates and potential earnings once a student graduates and finds work.

5. Tackling college costs with federal assistance. Obama has called upon the U.S. Congress to keep interest rates low on student loans and to make the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent. Tax credits of up to $2,500 have been in place since the 2010 tax year and are set to expire after the 2012 tax year.

Obama’s proposals come as the nation wrestles with a national debt that is approaching $16 trillion. The president believes, however, that his proposals will help the U.S. become more competitive and create new jobs. Those jobs would lead to more people paying taxes, thereby reducing our national debt.


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