“This country is only going to be as strong as our next generation.”
So declared President Obama today as he rolled out his plans for education reform in front of a crowd of students and supporters at the University at Buffalo -- the first stop on his two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania. But, if the current trajectory continues, it seems the next generation is going to be buried under thousands of dollars of college debt.
After beaming how his administration worked to "fix the auto industry" and “fix a broken health care system,” which won cheers from the audience, Obama turned to his main focus which was higher education and student loan debt. Considering the cost of public college has gone up 250 percent over the past two decades, and college students collectively now owe $1 trillion in outstanding loan debt, the burden these paybacks place on students and families is a significant topic indeed.
Obama listed his three main proposals for education reforms as follows:
1. Start rating colleges based on opportunity and value to the student.
The president is tasking Education Secretary Arne Duncan with rating colleges based on opportunity and outcomes by the 2015 school year. For instance, how much debt does the average student have when they leave campus? Based on the findings, the president stated colleges that keep tuition down will see their taxpayer funding go up, while the government will stop subsidizing schools that unfairly burden students.
2. Jump start new competition between colleges by encouraging innovation and affordability.
Obama stressed how schools could be helping students learn material faster so they can finish faster and therefore save money. As he concluded, “It’s time for colleges to step up.”
3. Ensure that students who have debt are aware of and take advantage of ways to manage and afford it.
One method Obama is heavily promoting is the Pay-As-You-Earn repayment plan. This program allows borrowers to cap their monthly loan repayments at 10 or 15 percent of their discretionary income. He says the plan has already helped over 2.5 million students.
One thing’s for sure, if college’s spiraling debt doesn’t come under control, Obama’s “Higher education is the best investment you can make in your future” line will become just another empty statement.