Paying for College

A Warning Shot Across The Bow

One of the bigger issues in national economy discussions is the ever-surging cost of going to college. I won't bother showing you a chart that documents that fact. Just imagine two lines. The one that looks relatively flat over the past few decades is your income. The line that appears to track the flight of the space shuttle is the cost of attending a four-year, degree-granting college or university. Got the picture? I'm sure that you've seen those lines before.

Well, this is an election year, after all, so it's time to promise hard-pressed families some relief from the financial burdens of higher education. The man in the driver's seat now is President Obama, who is vigorously campaigning for re-election. This past week, while addressing students at the University of Michigan--Ann Arbor, he issued a threat to schools that intend to continue their steep increases in cost over the coming years. In warlike terms, he (as one news story reported) "fired a warning shot at the nation’s colleges and universities" by threatening to stop federal aid to those schools that continue to "jack up tuition" year after year.


How or if this will happen remains to be seen. Of course, there are several things to keep in mind. First, this was a campaign speech and a promise by a politician. One might care to consider the value of campaign promises. Next, not all colleges receive federal aid, so the president's threat will fall on some deaf ears. Finally, even if such a promise were to be enacted, assuming the president's second term in office, the wheels of government grind excruciatingly slowly, so this year's high school senior might be fortunate to see his younger brother or sister benefit from a lower rise in college costs.

Here are a few highlights from that news story reporting on President Obama's Ann Arbor speech. You can judge the effectiveness of his plan for yourself.

Obama warns colleges: Rein in tuition or risk aid

by Jim Kuhnhenn and Kimberly Hefling: Associated Press

President Barack Obama fired a warning shot at the nation’s colleges and universities on Friday, threatening to strip their federal aid if they “jack up tuition” every year and to give the money instead to schools showing restraint and value.

Obama can’t proceed, though, without the OK from Congress, where the reaction of Republican lawmakers ranged from muted to skeptical. Higher education leaders worried about the details and the threat of government overreach, and one dismissed it as mere election-year “political theater.”

Average tuition and fees at public colleges rose 8.3 percent this year and, with room and board, now exceed $17,000 a year, according to the College Board.

Obama delivered his proposal with campaign flair, mounting a mainstream appeal to young voters and struggling families. He said higher education has become an imperative for success in America, but the cost has grown unrealistic for too many families, and the debt burden unbearable.

“We are putting colleges on notice,” Obama told an arena packed with students at the University of Michigan.

“You can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.”

Obama is targeting only a small part of the financial aid picture — the $3 billion known as campus-based aid that flows through college administrators to students. He is proposing to increase that amount to $10 billion and change how it is distributed to reward schools that hold down costs and ensure that more poor students complete their education ...

... Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said Obama put forward “interesting ideas that deserve a careful review.” But Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who leads a House panel with jurisdiction over higher education, said Obama’s plan should have tackled federal regulations that she said contribute to the problem.

The top Democrat on the House education committee, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said Congress has bipartisan concern about the rising costs of college and thinks the president’s plan will open up a conversation about the problem. Some Republicans in the past have offered proposals similar to the president’s.

Enacted or not, Obama’s plan may have the kind of popular appeal he can use in the campaign ...

... Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, said schools should be challenged to find ways to restrain costs, but they can’t continue to make up for state cuts. Money for state universities in Michigan dropped by 15 percent in this year’s state budget, and many — including the University of Michigan — raised tuition to help make up for the lost support ...

... University of Washington President Mike Young said Obama showed he did not understand how the budgets of public universities work. Young said the total cost to educate college students in Washington state, which is paid for by tuition and state government, has actually gone down because of efficiencies on campus.

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So, what do you think of the president's plan? I posted a thread about this on the College Confidential discussion forum. There are some very interesting comments there. Check them out and then let me know what you think in the comments section below. Is the president's plan a sound one or just so much campaign gunsmoke?

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