Federal Relations

January 27, 2012

Obama proposes Race to the Top for College Affordability

Details are beginning to emerge on Obama’s proposal to make college affordable.  He spoke to this during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, and again today at an event at the University of Michigan.  US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also been talking about this issue since late last year, and often refers to the challenge as looking “beyond the iron triangle” of cost, quality, and access.

Obama is proposing a financial aid overhaul that would – for the first time – tie colleges’ eligibility for campus-based aid programs (Perkins loans, work-study, and supplemental grants for low-income students) to the institutions’ success in improving affordability and value for students.  Under the proposed plan, the amount available for Perkins loans would grow to $8 billion, from the current $1 billion. Obama also wants to create a $1 billion grant competition, along the lines of the Race for the Top program for elementary and secondary education, to reward states that take action to keep college costs down.  Finally, he has also proposed a separate $55 million competition for individual colleges to increase their value and efficiency.

The administration also wants to give families clearer information about costs and quality, by requiring colleges and universities to offer a “shopping sheet” that would make it easier to compare financial aid packages and post-graduate earnings and employment information – all in an attempt to give students and families a better sense of what to expect from the college and after graduation. This would be in addition to the requirement imposed this year on the “college cost calculator.”

These proposed changes would all require Congressional approval, which is not likely to happen this year.  While some legislation may get introduced, most of the discussion around these ideas will take place out on the campaign trail.  Hang on for a bumpy ride!

Read more about the State of the Union address. 

Read more about the President’s speech at University of Michigan. 

Read more about Secretary Duncan’s “Beyond the Iron Triangle” speech.