President Barack Obama outlined reforms Thursday that are intended to shake up and improve a higher education system that he said is in crisis and unsustainable.Citing statistics that show college costs have shot up about 250 percent over the past three decades, far surpassing the 16 percent increase of a typical family's income during that time, the president said action now is an "economic imperative."
"Some of these reforms will require action from Congress, so we’re going to have to work on that," Obama said to an audience of mostly college students at the State University of New York in Buffalo. "Some of these changes I can make on my own. We are going to have to — we’re going to be partnering with colleges to do more to keep costs down, and we’re going to work with states to make higher education a higher priority in their budgets."
"And I’ve got to tell you ahead of time," Obama said, "these reforms won’t be popular with everybody, especially those who are making out just fine under the current system. But my main concern is not with those institutions; my main concern is the students those institutions are there to serve — because this country is only going to be as strong as our next generation."
Under the president's proposal:
- Colleges would get a rating based on their value and federal subsidies would be tied to those ratings (this is scheduled to be in place by 2015)
- Additional assistance will be provided to universities that set up programs that allow students to graduate in less time while maintaining a high quality education
- New avenues will be forged to help students manage and afford their college loan debt
- The "Pay-As-You-Earn" program would be opened up to more students (it caps loan repayment at 10% of a student's post college income)
- Students who receive federal financial aid must complete their courses before receiving grants for the next semester
- A campaign will bring greater awareness around the availability of existing student loan programs and resources
Read the president's remarks in their entirety on the White House website. We've also embedded a video of his speech.
Connecticut's Congressional Delegation Reacts
Following the president's speech, Connecticut's delegates in Washington issued statements responding the the proposed reforms. Here's what they had to say:
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.):
"I applaud the President’s efforts to reduce the overall cost of and improve access to higher education in this country. Over the last thirty years, the cost of college has skyrocketed, leaving higher education out of reach for too many Americans. I’ve heard from students and educators all across Connecticut, and the message is clear: we need to think bigger to solve this problem. But instead of addressing it more holistically, Congress has instead focused on patching together year to year extensions of federal student loan interest rates. I believe the affordability and accessibility of higher education will determine, to a large extent, America’s role in the world for generations to come. I plan to introduce legislation to address this, and I look forward to working with the President and my colleagues in Congress to accomplish this goal."
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.):
“As student loan debt tops $1 trillion nationwide, the President is correct to focus his attention on ways to drive down the cost of college, and provide students and families the tools and resources they need to make informed choices. I applaud the President for beginning this important conversation, particularly for his proposal to expand existing programs such as the federal income-based loan repayment program, which I have advocated for. This summer, I have spoken to hundreds of students from across the state—students who have taken on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to achieve their academic dreams, and who fear how that debt will impact their ability to pursue a career, buy a home and start a family. If we are serious about growing our economy and strengthening our communities, we need to reform our student loan programs so that we are investing in our students, not profiting from their dreams. As part of that investment, we should ensure that colleges too are keeping faith with the promises they have made. Ultimately, we cannot solve the student loan crisis without also addressing spiraling tuition and other costs. I will continue to explore ways to drive down these expenses, including tuition and textbooks, and I look forward to supporting the President in this effort.”
Congressman Jim Himes (D-4):
“As we consider how to help people pay for college and other forms of higher education, we must also focus on reining in the actual cost of a quality education and ensure that quality programs that provide a solid education and career options top the list of those that receive taxpayer support. Our economic success is inextricably tied to a well-educated and well-trained workforce. By investing in quality education today, we are investing in our economy tomorrow. I am encouraged by the President’s proposal, and in the wake of the passage of the Student Loan Certainty Act, I hope that my colleagues in Congress will continue to prioritize making college affordable for all.”
Congressman Joe Courtney (D-2):
“When I was with President Obama two weeks ago as he signed the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act into law, he said that our work to make college affordable is not done. I agree. Through my work on the House education committee and my conversations with students and families in eastern Connecticut, it is clear to me that despite the recent victory of keeping student loan rates affordable, there is much more that needs to be done to keep higher education within reach. Congress should not simply help graduates manage debt – we must take action to bring tuition costs down and make college more affordable so that young families are not saddled with astronomical debt.
“The president’s speech today is an important first step in a critical conversation about reducing the cost of college and maintaining the ladder into the middle class that a higher education can provide. Good paying and high quality jobs in Connecticut and around the country increasingly require a post-high school degree, and it is still the best way for a young person to invest in his or her future. The steps the president announced today to promote new accountability standards for schools, foster innovative uses for technology to improve curriculums, and provide better debt management options will help lay the groundwork for the coming debate in Congress over reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.
“As a member of the House Education And Workforce Committee that will be on the front lines of this important effort, I will continue to work towards a higher education system that is accessible and affordable for eastern Connecticut students and families.”
Congressman John B. Larson (D-1):
"I applaud the President for refocusing attention on college affordability, which is quickly turning into a crisis for middle class families and placing the American dream further out of reach for our young people. I would also like to recognize the leadership of Representative Joe Courtney, who is a tireless advocate on behalf of our students and families, and recently pushed Congress to lower student loan interest rates ahead of the new school year. The fight to improve college affordability is far from over and should be a top priority for our nation; I look forward to working with the President and Rep. Courtney as we take on this challenge."
Editor's note: As of 11 a.m. on Aug. 23, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3), had not yet issued a statement.