Sunday, February 12, 2012

Can Obama Really Lower the Cost of College?

Andy Rotherham's take on Obama's plan to rein in the skyrocketing cost of higher ed:

Let's cut right to the chase — I have about the same chance of being picked up by the Boston Red Sox as a utility player as President Obama does of having his proposals to control college costs get through Congress this year. But looking at what the President proposed on Friday (in a raucous speech at the University of Michigan) through the lens of short-term Capitol Hill feasibility misses the significance of what Obama is up to. Just a few years ago, the ideas the President hinted at in last week's State of the Union and is now describing in more depth were considered fringe topics, basically the province of a few wonks and reform-minded policymakers. Talk of improving productivity in higher education bordered on blasphemy. Now the President of the United States is on board.

Obama wants to provide more data to parents and students about what colleges cost and how their students do after graduation. He also wants to change how federal aid works in order to create incentives for schools to keep costs down and keep interest on federal student loans low. Most noteworthy is his attempt to catalyze innovations at colleges and universities to improve productivity and encourage states to reform higher education through a grant competition similar to his Race to the Top program that has led many states to adopt K-12 reforms in order to win federal dollars. More specifics on the higher-ed competition will accompany the President's budget request in February.

It's clear now, though, that the President is essentially flipping the playing field. Regulating colleges from Washington is complicated and often impractical — and that's when it isn't politically impossible. But by using the competitive approach, Obama hopes to sidestep the obstacles the higher-education lobby can throw up in Washington and instead give states cover to put forward bold ideas to get college costs under control and improve student outcomes. He'll still have to get his ideas through Congress, but this approach is politically more feasible than a frontal assault on the higher-education establishment. And there are some key Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, who in the past have supported versions of what Obama is proposing.


School of Thought

Can Obama Really Lower the Cost of College?

Making schools compete for federal aid is more feasible than an all-out assault on the powerful higher education lobby

By Andrew J. Rotherham | @arotherham | January 30, 2012 | +

Jason Reed / Reuters

President Obama delivers remarks on college affordability at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Jan. 27.

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