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Obama’s higher education reform is misguided

Published: Monday, January 30, 2012

Updated: Monday, January 30, 2012 11:01


President Barack Obama repeated many of the ideas presented in his State of the Union Address Friday at the University of Michigan; emphasizing that "higher education is not a luxury — it's an economic imperative." 

Though many students, such as those at USF, are concerned about overwhelming loan debts and increasing tuition costs, many of his proposed reforms may not produce results that help either students or universities. Furthermore, the reforms may not get  congressional backing as Obama's term is nearing its close.

To damaging effect, the current college financial aid system provides incentives for colleges who keep costs high, anonymous school officials told the New York Times. The reforms proposed by Obama would reward

colleges for having low tuition costs, enrolling low-income students and providing education that helps graduates get jobs and repay their loans.

Part of Obama's planned initiatives includes linking colleges' eligibility for federal aid to their ability to keep tuition costs low. According to a survey titled, "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2011," fewer students received financial aid through grants or scholarships than in 2010. This carrot-and-stick program would take away programs such as Perkins loans, work-study jobs and supplemental grants for low-income students from those who may need it the most.

 Money that would go to supporting students would have to come from tax dollars, a push that may not garner support from a conservative Congress. The new policies would also move the responsibility for awarding Pell grants and Stafford loans to individual schools. This could pose a challenge to students who ordinarily could apply the federal funding to any university.

 Yet, to counter this change, Obama is proposing a "shopping sheet" that would allow students and their families to compare financial aid packages between schools, as well as better inform students which types of federal aid are loans that need to be paid back. While this sounds like a helpful option for students who may find the collection of federal aid, scholarship, loan and work-study options overwhelming, the sheet is

unnecessary unless such historically federal money is shifted to the individual colleges.

Obama is also seeking to curb student loan debt, an issue that the administration has promised to address, yet he has provided relatively few details on potential plans. In his address to the students at the University of Michigan, Obama recounted how both he and his mother were given "a shot at a decent education" by grants and loans, which may explain his sympathy to the problem. However, providing extra funding to students who have chosen to take out loans, or forgiving their debt entirely, does not reward the students who worked their way through school.

 The focus needs to be kept on increasing federal work-study and benefiting colleges that keep costs low. If higher education costs are to be kept low, punishing universities that cannot afford to lower tuition and rewarding students who find themselves in debt is not the answer.

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