August 22, 2013

Obama proposes cost-conscious college ratings

He says with students facing much more global competition, making college affordable is 'an economic imperative' for the country.

The Associated Press

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President Barack Obama speaks at the University at Buffalo where he began his two day bus tour on Thursday to speak about college financial aid.

AP

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There has been little consensus among policymakers on how to curb college costs. While Obama's proposal could give colleges an incentive to slow increases, it could also add massive reporting requirements that could be a burden on schools already struggling to make ends meet.

The new rating system does not require congressional approval, and the White House is aiming to have it set up before the 2015 school year. But Obama does need support from Congress in order to use the ratings as a basis for parceling out federal financial aid.

In addition to tuition, schools will also be rated on average student loan debt, graduation rates and the average earnings of graduates. Under Obama's proposal, students attending highly rated schools could receive larger grants and more affordable loans.

The president is also seeking legislation to give colleges a "bonus" based on the number of students they graduate who received Pell Grants. The goal is to encourage colleges to enroll and graduate low- and moderate-income students.

Obama's other proposals include a requirement that colleges with high dropout rates distribute student aid over the course of the semester rather than in a lump sum. The aim is to ensure that students who drop out do not receive funds for time they are not in school.

The president also renewed his call for a $1 billion college "Race to the Top" competition that would reward states that make significant changes in higher education policies while also containing tuition costs.

For Obama, who has made no secret of his desire to get out of Washington when he can, the bus tours have become a favorite method for reconnecting with the public. Beyond his official events, the president often makes unscheduled stops at local restaurants and businesses, and sometimes pulls off on the side of the road to greet cheering crowds.

As his motorcade made its way from Buffalo to Syracuse, N.Y. , on Thursday, Obama stopped off in Rochester to have lunch at a restaurant with a small group of college students, recent graduates and their parents. He then made another pitch for his college affordability proposals to a crowd of high school students, parents and educators at Syracuse's Henninger High School.

On Friday, Obama plans to hold a town hall meeting at Binghamton University, then travel to Scranton, Pa., for an event at Lackawanna College. Vice President Joe Biden, a Scranton native, is to join Obama in his hometown. Biden has spent much of the week in Houston, where his son Beau underwent a medical procedure at a cancer center.

The president's highly secure bus was purchased by the Secret Service in 2011 for $1.1 million. The bus — unofficially known as "Ground Force One" — has dark tinted windows and flashing red and blue lights.

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