Sunday, December 8, 2013
and Kelley Bouchard email@example.com
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama unveiled a series of sweeping college affordability and accountability proposals on Thursday that, for the first time, would rate colleges on key metrics and eventually tie federal aid to schools based on how they measure up.
While Obama’s higher-education plan quickly ran into skepticism and opposition elsewhere, Maine college administrators, students and lawmakers offered largely positive reviews of the president’s vision of essentially grading colleges on their affordability.
“I think that is a good way to hold colleges accountable for the services they provide and for how affordable they are,” said Jimmy Jung, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Maine at Orono.
While the issue of college costs is a trending topic in higher education circles, “it’s not surprising that the federal government is driving this discussion,” Jung said.
While the president’s most ambitious proposal, which calls for the U.S. Department of Education to create a rating system for both public and private colleges by 2015, can be put in place through executive action, the president’s more controversial proposal — linking the amount of federal financial aid colleges get to those ratings by 2018 — would require congressional approval.
Ratings would assess institutions on a host of criteria, including tuition costs, scholarships offered, percentage of Pell grants that go to students from low- and middle-income families, average debt load of students, graduation rates and post-graduation earnings.
“There are schools out there who are terrific values,” Obama told students in Buffalo, N.Y., his first stop on a two-state bus tour. “But there are also schools out there that have higher default rates than graduation rates, and taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing students to go to schools where the kids aren’t graduating.”
Obama said the nation is in the midst of “a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt,” with college costs rising 250 percent during the past three decades, while average family incomes have risen only 16 percent.
The result, Obama said, is many students having to choose between forgoing a college education or taking on enormous debts.
In Maine, more than 70 percent of graduates from public and private colleges and universities in 2011 began their post-collegiate lives with student loan debt. The average debt load among Maine graduates that year was $26,046, slightly below the national average of $26,600, according to a report from the Project on Student Debt. By comparison, Maine’s median household income as of the last census was $47,898.
Some national higher education officials greeted Obama’s proposal with trepidation. Colleges probably will be concerned about losing federal dollars, while other observers worried that the ratings could have the opposite effect by prompting colleges to only admit higher-achieving students.
“This is extraordinarily complicated stuff, and it’s not clear we have the complete data or accurate data,” Molly Corbett Broad, the president of the American Council on Education, which represents colleges and universities in Washington, told The Associated Press.
Reaction from Maine’s colleges was more positive.
At Bowdoin College, where annual tuition and fees total $57,834, officials were more supportive about the affordability rating system.
“On the factors described today in President Obama’s plan — graduation rates, graduate earnings, affordability and access — we are confident that Bowdoin will measure very well,” Bowdoin spokesman Doug Cook said. “Bowdoin is committed to enrolling qualified students of all backgrounds, regardless of their ability to pay our fees.”
Cook said Bowdoin will provide $32.5 million in need-based financial aid this year. The average grant for students receiving aid this year will be $36,600. Bowdoin also boasts high first-year retention rates and six-year graduation rates — 96 percent and 94 percent, respectively.
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