August 23, 2013

Obama's college-aid plan plays well in Maine

The president proposes grading schools on affordability, and tying federal financial aid to the results.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

and Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: College rating system

Will President Obama's proposed government rating system help more Maine students attend college?



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Barack Obama
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President Obama explains his college-aid plan Thursday at the University of Buffalo. He said it would devote taxpayer money to schools providing the “bigger bang for the buck.”

The Associated Press

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Paul Grazia, a former USM graduate student, is paying off $46,000 in college debt.

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The total cost to attend Bates College in Lewiston this year is $58,950, but with financial aid, the average "net cost" is $21,402, according to data on a White House "college scorecard" website on affordability.

Bates President Clayton Spencer praised Obama for his "focus on access and results in higher education."

"More than 45 percent of Bates students receive financial aid, with an average grant for those on aid in excess of $38,000," Spencer said in a prepared statement. "We work hard to support all of our students for success, and 93 percent of those who enter Bates graduate with a bachelor's degree."

Several past and present Maine college students expressed hope, but skepticism, that an affordability rating system will reduce costs.

Paul Grazia, 29, a mental health case manager at Opportunity Alliance in Portland, is paying off $46,000 in debt from his undergraduate studies at Beloit College in Wisconsin and graduate studies at the University of Southern Maine.

"I did my undergraduate at Beloit because I could play baseball there, and I did my graduate work at USM because it was the least expensive option around," Grazia said. "I probably would have considered more options if there was an affordability rating system, but there's only so much you can afford, and I have some friends who have more than $100,000 in student debt."

Kelsey Weber, 20, and Kara Munro, 21, will be juniors this year at the Maine College of Art in Portland. By graduation, Weber figures she will owe about $40,000 while Monro's total student debt will be closer to $80,000.

Both said an affordability rating system would help students make better choices about higher education.

"I think some people don't realize how much money is going into their education until they've spent it," Monro said. "I think if you saw how much debt the average student has when they graduate from a school, it would help you decide whether you want to go to that school."

Obama's agenda likely will face stiff challenges in the highly partisan Congress, even though some of his proposals have been implemented in states under Republican leadership.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said a state-by-state approach would be preferable.

"Washington needs to be careful about taking a good idea for one state and forcing all 6,000 institutions of higher education to do the exact same thing, turning Washington into a sort of national school board for our colleges and universities," Alexander said, according to the Associated Press.

But independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who along with Alexander was a key negotiator of the recent bipartisan compromise to overhaul the way student loan interest rates are set, said he was pleased to see the president introduce a college affordability proposal.

In particular, King praised a plan to allow more students to take advantage of a program that caps monthly loan payments at 10 percent of income.

"The Senate has a real opportunity to tackle the issue of college affordability and the $1 trillion in outstanding student debt at the end of this year when we move to reauthorize the Higher Education Act," King said. "I will work with the administration and my colleagues in Congress to make steady strides forward in that effort."

White House officials said Thursday that the president plans to work on college affordability with many of the lawmakers who negotiated the student loan deal.

King's office confirmed Thursday that King has had discussions with the White House since the bill signing earlier this month, but would not provide further details of those discussions.


Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:


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Kelsey Weber, left, and Kara Munro, Maine College of Art juniors, will owe $40,000 and $80,000, respectively.


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Today's poll: College rating system

Will President Obama's proposed government rating system help more Maine students attend college?



View Results