College leaders fail Obama’s tuition plan

College leaders don’t like President Obama’s tuition-control plan, reports AP. In his State of the Union speech, the president threatened to cut some forms of federal aid to students at colleges that raise tuition or fail to provide “good value.”

Fuzzy math, Illinois State University’s president called it.

“Political theater of the worst sort,” said the University of Washington’s head.

States have reduced higher education funding, forcing public colleges and universities to raise tuition, university presidents say.

Under the president’s proposal, colleges would be judged on “responsible tuition policy,” either by “offering relatively lower net tuition prices” or “restraining tuition growth,” reports College Inc. In addition, the Education Department would evaluate how well colleges prepare graduates to get jobs and repay student loans, and their performance in enrolling and graduating low-income students.

The aid that colleges stand to lose under the president’s plan is not the Pell grant, the largest source of federal funds to students, but rather a package of “campus-based” programs that the federal government delivers to colleges. They are Federal Work Study, an initiative that subsidizes the expenses of campus jobs for needy students at 3,400 colleges; Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, a supplement to the Pell grant that awards needy students $100 to $4,000 a year; and the Perkins loan program, which delivers low-interest loans to students.

Obama is proposing to expand all three programs to the tune of about $10 billion — enhancing the Perkins program from $1 billion to $8 billion and augmenting Work Study and Opportunity Grants by a combined $2 billion.

While some believe higher education funding should be tied to performance, Obama’s proposal would deny aid to needy students, critics charge. “Ultimately, who you are punishing with this is the students,” said Haley Chitty, spokesman for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “They’re the ones who get this aid.”

Obama: Raise tuition and lose federal aid

College affordability was the theme of President Obama’s speech at the University of Michigan yesterday. He called for spending more on Perkins loans and work-study programs — going from $3 billion now to $10 billion  – but only at colleges and universities that provide “value.” Students at colleges that raise tuition could lose access to loans and work-study jobs.

In addition, the president’s plan (pdf) includes a $1 billion “Race to the Top for college affordability” and a $55 million “First in the World” competition to encourage productivity innovations, reports the Washington Post.

Higher education — including community colleges and lifelong learning for workers — is “an economic imperative,” Obama said. While he proposed increasing tuition tax credits and keeping interest rates low on student loans, he said that’s not enough. “Look, we can’t just keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition.”

So from now on, I’m telling Congress we should steer federal campus-based aid to those colleges that keep tuition affordable, provide good value, serve their students well.  (Applause.)  . . . If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.

If “provide good value” and “serve their students well” means anything, it means the federal government will monitor graduation rates and employment outcomes, as well as tuition, for the entire higher education sector. Currently, “gainful employment” rules, which monitor former students’ earnings and ability to pay back loans, cover only for-profit colleges and community college vocational programs.

 Following the speech, Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, issued a statement saying there’s concern that the proposal would “move decision-making in higher education from college campuses to Washington, D.C.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former education secretary, said the autonomy of U.S. higher education is what makes it the best in the world, and he’s questioned whether Obama can enforce any plan that shifts federal aid away from colleges and universities without hurting students.

“It’s hard to do without hurting students, and it’s not appropriate to do,” Alexander said. “The federal government has no business doing this.”

President Obama also touted college “report cards” showing college costs and how well graduates do in the job market.

The U.S. Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are working on Know Before You Owe, a financial aid shopping sheet that will let future students estimate their debt, monthly payment and likely ability to repay loans. Parents and students also have requested a breakdown of college costs and information on repayment rates for graduates at each college.

What’s a credit worth?

What’s a credit worth? Traditionally, professors decide how much credit to award. The U.S. Education Department’s definition of the credit hour is “misguided,” argues the American Council on Education. The new rule could affect student loan eligibility for online programs, colleges with flexible scheduling, work-study programs and other alternatives.