Obama right to focus on college affordability

Prez asks Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid

Feb 17, 2013 @ 12:01 am

OK, I admit it. I dozed in and out of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address last Tuesday.

Don't judge me. When was the last time you heard a State of the Union address that wasn't just a laundry list of familiar issues or one that wasn't laden with unrealistic expectations and nods to special-interest groups?

On that front, Mr. Obama didn't quite disappoint.

Indeed, he covered a wide range of issues during his hour-long address — everything from tax reform to job creation to climate change. Mr. Obama also set the stage for a contentious battle in Washington over immigration and gun control.

For financial advisers, however, his 6,000-word oration didn't offer much in the way of meaningful insight into how clients' financial well-being will be directly affected by his second term in office. Notably missing, for example, was any plan for overhauling Social Security.

And while Mr. Obama did talk about his plan for addressing the nation's budgeting woes — closing loopholes in the tax code and shrinking health care programs — even that was basically a rehash of everything that he has been saying for the past couple of months.

That said, he did touch on one issue that caught my attention: the high cost of obtaining a college degree in the United States.

Admittedly, I am biased. As the father of four boys who, at some point, will all be in college at the same time (fingers crossed), nothing brings on a cold sweat faster than the thought of opening those tuition bills.

So I perked up when Mr. Obama reiterated his call for reform of the process for distributing college financial aid, and I cheered when he suggested that schools should be held accountable for keeping a lid on tuition.


“Taxpayers can't keep on subsidizing higher and higher and higher costs for higher education,” Mr. Obama said. “Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure that they do.”

Mr. Obama is right in asking Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. If Congress takes up that challenge, colleges that depend on taxpayer funding will be forced to up their game when it comes to controlling costs and boosting graduation rates.

As promised in the speech, the White House last Wednesday unveiled an online tool aimed providing basic information on colleges and universities across the country.

For example, the site provides the following information about students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.: The average net tuition price, after grants and scholarships, is $15,905 a year. About 77.4% percent of students graduate in six years. For students who relied on federal loans to help pay for college, about 4.2% of them defaulted within three years of entering repayment. The average borrower pays back about $218.65 a month for 10 years.

Although the information contained on the College Scorecard is bare-bones and some of it a little dated, advisers may find the site useful as a jumping-off point to a more personalized conversation with a client about college planning.

Got to whitehouse.gov/issues/ education/higher-education/college-score-card to view the White House informational site.


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