President Obama's College Affordability Plan

Obtaining a college education may be one of the most important steps you can take toward pursuing the career path of your dreams, but the rising costs of tuition are becoming an issue. To complicate things further, funding options at the state level are also declining, making it even more challenging for people who are hoping to better themselves through higher education. You’re taught that college will lead to better opportunities, after all, but if you’re accruing so much debt in the process, is it worth it?

Affordability is the goal

That’s what President Barack Obama’s new initiative is all about: making the expectations of college affordability match reality by providing you with more clearly defined options. For instance, the White Housei states that Obama has already raised the maximum Pell Grant award by more than $900 to $5,730, he created the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which is a system that helps students pay for college expenses, and he eliminated bank subsidies on student loans, which has begun the arduous process of lowering the cost of tuition.

Essentially, Obama has already engineered his administration to target the things that once weighed down students, but he acknowledges that these steps still aren’t enough. To that end, his next battle in the ongoing fight to establish an affordable tuition plan is to create a ratings system that will attempt to provide you and your family with the information you’ll need to make more informed decisions about how they’ll pay for each college based on overall value.

Choosing which college to go to is an extremely important decision, and you and your family need more information in order to make an informed decision. The costs of tuition and finding funding to pay for it are huge factors, which is what the measurement scale seeks to assist with - narrowing down options and giving you feedback that you can use.

The challenge of measuring value

This won’t be easy, however. How do you measure the value of something intangible that has so many moving parts? According to the U.S. Department of Educationii, the answer is just as complex and has yet to be completed. The driving goals are clear, though: the Obama administration truly believes in the power of education and how degree-holding members of society are important to the ongoing success of the country. As such, every metric and system of measurement in this new plan is engineered to provide you with even more information that you can use to make decisions easier and with, hopefully, better outcomes.

Despite the altruistic motivations behind this measurement scale, the system still requires a great deal of complex decision-making to be done. As of yet, this part of process is still in flux, but the U.S. Department of Education has narrowed down the following criteria:

  • The level of access each institution has to grants and state funding
  • The affordability of the college overall and the average loan debt the student will accrue
  • The overall outcomes of past graduates, including earnings and job placement.

Questions about the plan’s effectiveness raised

As the finer points of this program continued to be ironed out - just in time for the 2015 school year - Inside Higher Ediii noted that there are skeptics of the plan who suspect it will be too challenging to accurately articulate a college’s value. Top detractors wonder how any one system of measurement will be able to weigh the pros and cons of an institution for someone, especially when it doesn’t sound like the scale will take the full breadth of the college experience available at each individual institution into consideration.

The blog site welcomed opinions from faculty members around the country, and their responses to Obama’s speech were mixed. Most believe that while the plan touches on some of the overlapping concerns with the current educational system, it doesn’t do enough to address key elements, such as the rising cost of tuition itself or the lack of funding for longstanding institutions.

Marianne Hirsch, president of the Modern Language Association, raised the question of whether online college courses will also be included in the assessment, noting that the plan lacks a true overview of the higher education system.

“I worry about the over-reliance on ratings and test results in the plan, the way it risks encouraging colleges to admit good test takers, and prepare students for easily measurable outcomes,” Hirsch said. “Instead, we need to be attentive to the complex process of learning and deepening knowledge and recognize that studying fields such as the humanities pay lifelong career benefits.”

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