President Barack Obama went on a two day college bus tour in August to promote his new plans on how to make college more affordable. The tour went through the states of Pennsylvania and New York, stopping at the University of Buffalo, Henninger High School, Bingham University, and ending in at Lackawanna College.
The President spoke about the rising cost of higher education. The President spoke about how the cost of higher education has raised 260 percent whereas the income of families has only gone up about 18. He claimed this to be the reason that college has “become out of reach for too many people, or young people are being loaded up with more and more debt.”
Kim Shepherd, a senior communication major, agreed that affordability is an issue. Shepherd said, “Someone like me who has taken a little longer throughout college to figure out what I like and want to pursue and am now looking graduation in the face. I want to pursue this further but the one and only thing that’s stopping me is the money. You can’t put a price on happiness but I don’t want to be paying loans and never be able to get ahead because of the debt it would put me in.”
This is not the first time the administration has addressed the need for college tuition to be reformed. They have previously made it so that the student loan program was no longer run through the banks (who the President claimed were making “billions of dollars on”) and instead the money is now given straight to the students. This system has been able to provide assistance for more students to have a chance to get grants and loans.
Yet The President expressed that there is still more to be done. The average debt of a student is around $26,000 upon graduation. He spoke about the additional costs that students are dealing with when the graduate, such as buying a home, starting a business or even a family and how important it is for the economy for students to have the ability to afford these lifestyles after college.
“The bottom line is this: We can’t price higher education so prohibitively that ordinary families can’t afford it. That will ruin our chances to make sure the 21st century is the American Century just like the 20th century was.” The President stated.
The proposed plan is broken up into three different reforms. The first platform is to change the rating system that colleges use. Instead of following the tradition forms of rating the system, based on how selective the school is, how expensive it is and what kind of shape the campus is in. The President proposed that the rating system should focus on how much debt students are graduating with, graduation rates, and how long it takes students to graduate. The President hopes that this type of rating system will aid in students picking schools that will give them the best education for the best price.
Along with this rating system, there will be pressure applied on state legislatures to fund more college programs. According to the President, the reason for state universities rise in their tuition was due to the decrease in funding for education, which puts the burdens of cost on to the students through tuition.
On top of pressure being applied to state legislative branches, it will also be applied to students to graduate proficiently and on time. Funding will be granted based on how many credits students are completing, in a certain amount of time. This, the President hopes, will stop students from taking out large amounts of debt and never getting the degree they spent the money on.
The second platform that the President addressed was to “jumpstart competition among colleges and states to think of more innovative ways to reduce cost.” He encouraged some ideas that certain universities are putting into place such as a program where students get credit based on their competency instead of their time spent in the classroom.
Another example given are the schools that compress the amount of time that students take to graduate, instead of four years some programs only call for three years. The less time it takes for students to graduate, the less money they will spend.
Dr. Steven Pressman, professor of Economics and Finance at the University believes that trimming down the time for students to graduate could be tricky. The problem with timing graduation to a certain amount of years is that not all students go to school full time, which could have an effect on the number of years it takes them to graduate.
Online classes are also discussed, in means of cutting down the costs. The President spoke about the advancement of online learning that allows students to get a quality education for less of the price.
According to Pressman, the research that he has done on the topic of online education has left him skeptical of the benefits that come from it. He found that online classes do not provide students with the ability to stand up in front of their peers and think on their feet, much like a classroom setting would provide.
The third and final platform calls for the expansion of a program that allows college graduates to cap their monthly payments based on 10 percent of their income. This program would allow students to not make their career decisions based on how much money they will make but rather what they would like to do with their education. The program is already in place, but not available to all students, which according to the President means it needs to be improved.
Pressman compared this program to one that is similar in the United Kingdom. In the UK students have a 20 year period to pay back their loans, and if they do not in the 20 years then “all is forgiven,” he explained.
“This is beneficial because if you graduate in your early twenties, by the time your early forties come around you no longer have to worry about your student loans.” Pressman continued.
Pressman further explained that the UK system is a good way to control the debt, with students coming out with an average of around 30,000 dollars in debt for just undergraduate studies alone.
“What happens when you want to go to law school? Or med school? You don’t have the ability to get through school for free as you would with liberal arts programs by being a teaching assistant or working for a program. The 20 year cap is a whole lot better than what Obama is explaining,” Pressman clarified.
The President’s bottom line is, “We need to stop taking the same business-as-usual approach when it comes to college education.”
“It’s my basic belief and I suspect the belief of most people here, higher education shouldn’t be a luxury. It’s an economic necessity in this knowledge-based economy. And we want to make sure that every family in America can afford it,” Obama said.
Paul Dement, Director of Community and Government Relations for the University, stated “At this point, the details of how President Obama plans to implement his broad proposals to make college more affordable have not been disclosed. The White House released a four-page outline on August 22nd but the details still do not exist. The White House has said it plans to work with the college community in developing the details and Congress will certainly have a say as well. “
Pressman agreed that there is a long way to go for the President’s plan to be effective. “How much difference is 1,000 dollars off of your loans going to make in the long run? Think about if you have a younger brother or sister who is looking to go to college, would that extra 1,000 dollars off really do anything? My gut instinct is no, there needs to be a lot more done than that,” said Pressman.
“There is no doubt that college affordability needs to be addressed but I would hope they would be cautious about a one-size-fits-all rating system that does not take into account that each student has different needs and goals,” Dement said.