Obama's Higher Education Reform Proposal Jeered by Florida GOP
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President Barack Obama turned his attention to higher education on Thursday as he continues to push his “Better Bargain” for middle class America, but his proposals received jeers from Florida Republicans.
Kicking off a two-day swing through New York and Pennsylvania, Obama spoke Thursday at the University of Buffalo and called for a new evaluation system measuring colleges on affordability, tuition, student loan debt, graduation rates and graduate incomes. Obama hopes to implement the new system, which will send more financial aid to students attending better rated schools, by 2015
“But what I want to talk about today is what’s become a barrier and a burden for too many American families --- and that is the soaring cost of higher education,” Obama continued.“This is something that everybody knows you need -- a college education. On the other hand, college has never been more expensive. Over the past three decades, the average tuition at a public four-year college has gone up by more than 250 percent -- 250 percent. Now, a typical family's income has only gone up 16 percent. So think about that -- tuition has gone up 250 percent; income gone up 16 percent. That’s a big gap.”
Getting to financial aid, Obama said it did not help close that gap. “Now, it's true that a lot of universities have tried to provide financial aid and work-study programs,” Obama said. “And so not every student -- in fact, most students are probably not paying the sticker price of tuition. We understand that. But what we also understand is that if it's going up 250 [percent] and your incomes are only going up 16 [percent], at some point, families are having to make up some of the difference, or students are having to make up some of the difference with debt.”
Obama ripped states for cutting back on higher education funding and insisted the “average student who borrows for college now graduates owing more than $26,000.”
Reviewing his first term, Obama praised his administration for focusing on higher ed but added more needed to be done as the system heads toward a crisis.
“The problem is, is that even if the federal government keeps on putting more and more money in the system, if the cost is going up by 250 percent, tax revenues aren’t going up 250 percent -- and so at some point, the government will run out of money, which means more and more costs are being loaded on to students and their families,” Obama said. “The system’s current trajectory is not sustainable. And what that means is state legislatures are going to have to step up. They can’t just keep cutting support for public colleges and universities. That's just the truth. Colleges are not going to be able to just keep on increasing tuition year after year, and then passing it on to students and families and taxpayers. Our economy can’t afford the trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, much of which may not get repaid because students don't have the capacity to pay it. We can’t price the middle class and everybody working to get into the middle class out of a college education. We’re going to have to do things differently. We can't go about business as usual.”
Obama then turned toward his reform plan. “My plan comes down to three main goals,”Obama said. “First, we’re going to start rating colleges not just by which college is the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not just by which college has the nicest facilities -- you can get all of that on the existing rating systems. What we want to do is rate them on who's offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck.
“No. 2, we’re going to jump-start new competition between colleges -- not just on the field or on the court, but in terms of innovation that encourages affordability, and encourages student success, and doesn’t sacrifice educational quality. That’s going to be the second component of it,” Obama added. “And the third is, we’re going to make sure that if you have to take on debt to earn your college degree, that you have ways to manage and afford it.”
Just as he did when he spoke in Jacksonville last month, Obama ripped into congressional Republicans. “Rather than keeping focus on a growing economy that creates good middle-class jobs, we’ve seen a faction of Republicans in Congress suggest that maybe America shouldn’t pay its bills that have already been run up, that we shut down government if they can’t shut down Obamacare,” Obama said. “That won’t grow our economy. That won’t create jobs. That won’t help our middle class. We can’t afford in Washington the usual circus of distractions and political posturing. We can't afford that right now.”
Obama’s speech drew jeers from Florida Republicans. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2016, said there were enough regulations as is and Obama’s new program would be ineffective.
“While I share the president’s goal of making college tuition more affordable, I’m strongly opposed to his plan to impose new federal standards on higher education institutions,” said Rubio. “This is a slippery slope, and one that ends with the private sector inevitably giving up more of its freedom to innovate and take risks. The U.S. did not create the best higher education system in the world by using standards set by Washington bureaucrats. There are many things we can do to make higher education more affordable and available that do not involve massive increases in the federal government’s role in our nation’s higher education system. Congress should pass the bipartisan ‘Student Right To Know Before You Go Act’ to help students make wiser financial decisions, and allow students to use federal financial aid for courses taught at more institutions. President Obama needs to realize that not every problem can be solved by giving more power to Washington bureaucrats.”
Gov. Rick Scott insisted Obama’s actions were too little too late and pointed to his proposal for Florida colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees for less than $10,000.
“President Obama announced today that he wants to improve the value of higher education by rewarding colleges and universities on their performance and affordability," Scott said. “The president is certainly late to the party on making higher education more affordable, but we are glad he’s here. We encourage him to look at the reforms we have made here in Florida to hold the line on tuition and reward colleges and universities who are able to graduate students with a great job and without debilitating debt because of the high cost of tuition. Florida is a national model in making higher education more affordable.
“The president said he wanted to encourage more competition in higher education to make degrees more affordable,” Scott continued. “In Florida, we held a competition encouraging our state colleges to craft a bachelor’s degree program for only $10,000. In just a short amount of time, every Florida college offering a bachelor’s degree crafted a degree program for only $10,000 in a high-demand job field.
“We are focused on improving the value of higher education for students and parents by fighting tuition hikes and rewarding schools that graduate students who get jobs,” Scott said in conclusion. “Just this year, we passed a budget that included $20 million in performance funding for universities tied to graduates who find jobs, the salary of those jobs, and the cost of their degree. Florida is taking the lead in making higher education more affordable and the nation is starting to follow.”
During his speech in Buffalo, Obama invoked an unlikely predecessor. “I hear that the last sitting president to speak here was Millard Fillmore," Obama said to applause. While Fillmore is one of two presidents from the area -- the other being Grover Cleveland -- his name has become synonymous with mediocrity in the White House. “And he was actually chancellor of the university at the same time -- which sounds fun, but I’ve got enough on my plate.”
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.