Three Views on President Obama’s Higher Education Reform Proposals

Obama’s Plan Aims to Lower Cost of College

by Marie Herb

As colleges across the nation begin another new school year, President Obama recently proposed to help students make college more affordable. He suggested that by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year colleges will be “ranked” according to a few different principles including: the costs to attend the school, the percentage of students from lower-income families, the percentage of students who graduate, the amount that students accrue in debt after graduation, and students’ the post-graduation income. All of these factors will be used to “rate” the colleges and apply it to financial aid for students across the country by the year 2018. It is anticipated that this will make school more affordable for many students and their parents. In the current system, the government disperses aid based on the size of the school rather than other factors. Under this plan, the schools with the highest ratings – regardless of private or public – would receive the most financial aid from the federal government.

In general, this proposal has a concrete purpose and goal. If Congress approves this proposal, it will be interesting to see the execution of this idea. While this system of “rating” colleges could be useful, there would need to be different factors regarding the type of school which the student attends and the significance of each of the criteria. If Congress is able to agree on an improved system of financial aid, students across the United States will ultimately benefit, and thus, the rest of the nation.

To view the original article in the New York Times Click Here!

NCLB for Higher Ed?

by Jessica Dembeck

President Obama recently spoke about the need for reform, as the cost of college tuition continues to rise. What’s his solution? The President proposed to tie federal funding to students’ performance and to create a ranking system for universities that rates them according to affordability, graduation rates, successful loan repayment, etc. That sounds incredibly familiar…

The No Child Left Behind Act (2005) did exactly the same thing at the elementary level, linking funding to students’ performances on the state assessment and whether or not they attain adequate yearly progress. As a future teacher, I’ve observed the results of this policy in full effect. Teachers are now only teaching their students how to pass the state assessment, and now, subject areas like science and social studies are being put to the side and barely addressed in the classroom. Of course, this isn’t happening everywhere, but the fact is that it’s still happening.

Similar to NCLB, Obama’s proposal seems like a great idea in theory, but the actual execution of the proposed policy doesn’t sit too well with me. The rating system doesn’t take into consideration all of the qualitative information that is crucial to education, just like NCLB. A university can have all of the right quantitative information, but if the quality of instruction is poor, then what? With how many colleges and universities there are in the United States, how can the government ever know exactly what they are funding?

The Cost of College

Leyette Moll

President Obama stated that “…if a higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America — and it is — then we’ve got to make sure it’s within reach.”  While the president has supported initiatives to ease the pains of college costs such as the “Pay as you Earn” program, a program that caps loans at 10 percent of what a student’s income is and which few people are eligible for, he has also stated that he is planning to install 3 governmental changes to increase college accessibility to the middle and lower class American: “[1] Increasing value, making sure that young people and their parents know what they’re getting when they go to college; [2] encouraging innovation so that more colleges are giving better value; [3] and then helping people responsibly manage their debt” are the keys to accessible higher education, says President Obama.

All of the president’s ideas appear to be magical solutions to a growing problem, but are they fast acting solutions? Unfortunately these changes, even if they were ready to be enacted tomorrow, would have little affect for those attending college at the moment. Going to a school that has better bang for its buck and changing a school’s innovative tactics are ideas lost on those already attending a 4 year institution. Managing debt is also a great idea, but what if manageable debt was exceeded after one year of college for those who are now sophomores or further along in their college years? Good luck next time? There is not a next time or a re-do for those who have already begun college, and where preventative measures should not be discouraged, perhaps more immediate results would be welcome in regards to putting a dent on college costs.

Financial Aid for the Neediest Students is Down at State Universities

A story co-published in ProPublica and The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that poor students are receiving less financial aid from public universities at the same time that wealthier students are given larger scholarship packages. This chart shows how these trends have developed since 1996:


There are several reasons for why this shift has taken place.

“For some schools, they’re trying to climb to the top of the rankings. For other schools, it’s more about revenue generation,” said Don Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.

To achieve these goals, schools use their aid to draw wealthier students — especially those from out of state, who will pay more in tuition — or higher-achieving students, whose scores will give the colleges a boost in the rankings.

Private colleges have been using such tactics aggressively for some time. But in recent years, many public colleges have sought to catch up, doing what the industry calls “financial-aid leveraging.”

The math can work like this: Instead of offering, say, $12,000 to an especially needy student, a school might choose to leverage its aid by giving $3,000 discounts to four students with less need, each of whom scored high on the SAT, who together will bring in more tuition dollars than the needier student.

According to the article this trend may escalate as state universities are held more accountable for graduation rates.

US Department of Education & For-Profit Higher Ed Rules

The US Department of Education has released a list of potential regulations aimed at student debt at for-profit universities. According to Politico:

The regulation would cut off federal aid to programs at for-profit colleges and vocational programs at all colleges whose graduates’ debt is more than 30 percent of their discretionary income and 12 percent of their annual income for two out of three years.

And the regulation would create a new warning zone for programs whose graduates’ debt exceeds 8 percent of discretionary income or 20 percent of annual income. Those programs would have to warn prospective students and limit their enrollment. After four years in the warning zone, the programs would lose federal financial aid.

Negotiations between the Department of Education and affected higher education programs began on September 9.  Another Politico article claims that the debates will be contentious and take place against a politicized backdrop pitting President Obama against Congressional Republicans who oppose the regulations.