Pushing colleges to lower costs

Obama’s proposal works to distribute federal aid in smarter ways.

While the issue has been on the minds of most American students and in the talking points of politicians, little has been done to address college costs and student debt, which has surpassed the nation’s outstanding balance on auto loans and credit cards.

However, while speaking to the University of Buffalo last month, President Barack Obama announced a bold, if imperfect, federal plan to incentivize colleges to make tuition affordable.               

Phase one of the plan, which Obama said will start by the 2015 school year, would have the federal government rate the nation’s colleges and universities based upon various factors, including average tuition charge, share of low-income students enrolled and amount of debt students have when they graduate, the Washington Post reported.

Phase two would then tie financial aid to these ratings, giving more aid to students who attend schools with higher ratings, which could come in the form of larger Pell grants or better interest rates on federal loans. In theory, the plan would give incentive for colleges to lower tuition and admit more disadvantaged students.

There are valid concerns about Obama’s proposal, such as how students who do not live near a highly rated school might be unfairly punished.  However, the plan is unique in how it acknowledges that federal aid to students contributes to rising college tuition. Instead of doling out billions of dollars across the board, colleges that work to keep costs low will be rewarded with more aid. The plan would also put more requirements on students who receive aid, having them demonstrate they are on track to graduate.

Much of Obama’s plan should and will be discussed and debated in Congress, but we hope a version is eventually passed that distributes federal aid in smarter ways that do not contribute to rising tuition costs. Bold action is needed to finally get college costs under control, and though flawed, Obama’s proposal is a good start.