Can Obama Do Anything About the Cost of College?
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Student loans. Say that word and you’re sure to get a range of responses. Many of those responses would likely point towards the burden that student loan debt can be. Knowing that, many would argue that some change might be needed in terms of the cost of college and how the reliance on loans can be lowered. With that somewhat in mind, President Obama went on a bus tour of the Northwest recently to kick off a proposition to find ways to lower the cost of college as well as offering various potential rewards to colleges and universities. As with anything political, Obama’s plan has had its share of both criticism and support. With that in mind, my desire really is not to be political with this post, but to take a brief look at the plan – with the knowledge that this is a bigger problem that many will have to work on in order to tackle.
Information is Key When Making a College Decision
As is the case with any major decision, when looking at the cost of college, information is vital. The ability to gather information critical to the decision making process, explore that information in a clear and concise fashion, and compare different variables simplifies the decision. That’s part of what I love about the Obama plan for higher education. It seeks to make to create college scorecards which will include such things as percentage of students receiving Pell Grants to graduate rates and earnings plus a bit more and would start in time for the 2015 school year. This sounds like a great resource to help look at the cost of college and narrow down the options for prospective college students, doesn’t it? It is, but the problem is much of the information is already publicly available in a variety of forms and avenues. True, it might make it a little more streamlined, but I feel that while it may be communicated as a way to help make a college decision easier for students and parents that it falls short in delivering on that promise.
Should the Federal Government Step in?
One of the major proposed tenants of the Obama plan is to supposedly tie the results of this scorecard to the amount of financial aid – both grants and student loans a school receives. Not only can this potentially impact the college or university, but it can also impact a student as they could get either less or more depending on the school they choose to attend. From what I have read, this is somewhat uncharted water where the government would be saying how much a school could get. Essentially this would bring Congress into determining what kind of money schools could get when it has only administered financial aid in the past. In addition to this, the Obama plan would also seek to potentially cap the student loan payments to 10% of income for recent college graduates. This, in my opinion, potentially, can open a major can of worms when you look at the role of the government and what their role is in terms of attending college, and that’s not to mention the cost of all these proposals. I am all for looking for ways to lower the cost of college for many, but anytime the government gets into the picture I get leery of what could happen. At the end of the day, the devil is in the details on this plan in relation to government involvement and how it would be implemented.
Is Higher Education to Blame?
It would be easy to look at the cost of college and think that higher education is entirely to blame. I’ll tip my hand a bit and argue that, to a certain extent, higher education does play some role (how big I don’t know) in terms of the cost of college for many. I hear regularly from family members as they wax poetic about how things are different now than decades ago and one of the preeminent topics is the cost of college and how many schools have essentially become a business today. I look at my Alma Mater, which I love and follow regularly, and they’re making major pushes to build more research facilities, they just finished a major expansion to the football stadium and are in the process of renovating dorms. Those things are all fine and well, but what do they require to become reality? Money and a lot of it! We see that in articles like the one I read in NPR recently about how colleges are building palatial dorms in an effort to attract more students. All of that costs money. Add that to the felt need that ALL must go to college and it can lead to a lucrative business.
The Cost of College will Continue to Increase – We Must Deal with it
Whether we like it or not, the cost of college is an issue that we’ll continue to deal with. While I admire the desire of the Obama administration to try and curtail the cost and make it easier for those in the middle class and below to attend college and not be burdened with the issue of major student loan debt, I believe it’ll likely fail to stem the tide of college costs. What does this leave us with then? It leaves us pretty much where we’re at now and that’s the need to take the college decision seriously and to look at all the variables – cost, how it will be funded and the likelihood of a decent paying job, amongst others, in order to make an informed decision. As I’ve said before, college should not be an exercise of “discovering yourself” or going because it’s “expected” of you, but because it’s right for the student who has a fairly concrete idea of what he or she wants to do, specifically, with his or her college degree. I know this is easier said than done, but it is possible if it’s made a priority and thought and effort is put into it. As I look at the cost of college, I can’t help but look at it from a somewhat consumerist mindset – what is going to give me the best value, what will I get the most out of and where will I get what I want? Whether this means you take a year off before going to college, going to a trade school, starting out at a community college or going to the traditional four year college, it’s a question that behooves us it be asked and one that we’d be well served to help prospective college students navigate.
What are your thoughts on the Obama higher education plan? What would you do to stem the tide of the cost of college?
Photo courtesy of: BeckyF