Campaign for Higher Ed

President Obama addressed his broad campaign for college affordability during his visit to the University of Michigan on Friday, Jan. 27. Pointing at problems such as increasing tuition costs and cuts in state funding, President Obama proposed several strategies to support the affordability of higher education.


In his speech, the president called for states to spend more on higher education, the lack of which he believes to be the largest factor in tuition increases at public colleges in the past decade. Secretary Duncan shared that the state budget reflects where our values are. Duncan stated that states have a responsibility to support higher education, despite their already tight budgets.


“The University of California appreciates President Obama’s focus on higher education and his efforts to assure that college is within reach for all Americans,” said University of California President, Mark G. Yudof.


This July, if no action is taken, the interest rate on student loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. President Obama urged students to pressure Congress to prevent this from happening. He also encouraged lawmakers to pass the Dream Act, which will provide undocumented students a way to gain citizenship.


Additionally, the president expressed his efforts along with administration to ask Congress to authorize an increase in Perkins Loans from $1 billion to $8 billion.


“We don’t know specifically what the particulars are, but we’re looking forward to working with them on proposals that would increase acceptability and affordability,” said Carolyn Henrich, the Legislative Director at UCOP.


Addressing the colleges directly, Obama warned them that they need to do more to cut costs instead of just hiking tuition fees every year. In a budget plan the president will release next month, President Obama hopes to change the criteria from which federal aid programs or campus-based aid is awarded. He proposed a desire to create a college scorecard of sorts for every institution in order to assess tuition, graduation rates and earnings upon graduation.


“The University of California already has tuition that is highly redistributive: One third of every tuition dollar goes to financial aid, and more than half of our students pay no tuition,” said UC President Mark G. Yudof.


“UC is proud of the robust state and institutional financial aid our enrolled students receive, and the university is continuously working to ensure that college costs remain low and affordable.”


Although the UC officials expressed their desire to work with the president on his new proposal, there are many who question his plans. The American Association of Community Colleges displayed their worries that it would be challenging to develop a measure of student outcomes that would be fair to community colleges.


Additionally, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities stated that solutions to higher education affordability will not come from more federal controls on colleges or states.


“His proposed solution will not only fail to fix the problem but is also likely to compound it by blunting the competition that is needed to shake up the world of higher education,” wrote Stuart M. Butler, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Policy Innovation at The Heritage Foundation.


Butler indicated that while targeting students can help specific groups of students afford college, increasing total aid, as the President proposes, will only increase the sticker price of college. He expressed that only through encouraging increasing competition with new and less expensive higher education business models can we reduce costs and transform higher education for the future.


The president wants to use $55 million to fund institutions that create innovative ways of increasing productivity. However, Stuart M. Butler does not believe that federal officials are able to perceive the type of innovative ventures that private investors or foundations might notice.


President Obama’s plans intend to support the affordability of higher education, however, it is unclear which specific programs he will support and which will need to be cut. Already, Congress has cut student-aid benefits in order to pay the growing costs of the Pell Grant Program. Further cuts will also need to be made in order to expand work study and keep interest rates low.


“We just have to wait and see what he proposes,” Carolyn Henrich said.


In the meantime, Mark G. Yudof assured that the UC system will look into various solutions for the budget deficit that maintain the affordability of public education.

“UC will continue to take actions to reduce costs and maintain its high quality, and will work with the state of California to ensure a strong commitment to funding public higher education.”