Obama plan aims to lower cost of college

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICEAugust 22, 2013 

President Barack Obama plans to announce on Thursday a set of ambitious proposals aimed at making colleges more accountable and affordable by rating them and ultimately linking those ratings to financial aid.

A draft of the proposal, obtained by The New York Times, shows a plan to rate colleges before the 2015 school year based on measures such as tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates, and the percentage of lower-income students who attend.

The ratings would compare colleges to their peer institutions. If the plan can win congressional approval, the idea is to base federal financial aid partly on rankings.

“All the things we’re measuring are important for students choosing a college,” a senior administration official said. “It’s important to us that colleges offer good value for their tuition dollars and that higher education offer families a degree of security so students aren’t left with debt they can’t pay back.”

Obama hopes that starting in 2018, the ratings would be tied to financial aid, so that students at highly rated colleges might get larger federal grants and more affordable loans. But that would require legislation, which could be difficult.

“I think there is bipartisan support for some of these ideas, as we’ve seen in states where the governors have been working on them,” said the administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana have made moves toward linking aid to educational outcomes. But in the divisive congressional atmosphere, it is not clear how much backing there would be for such proposals.

In February, the administration introduced an online college scorecard, making public some of the information to be included in the ratings, to help families evaluate different colleges. Graduates’ earnings, however, will be a new data point.

“There are all kinds of issues, like deciding how far down the road you are looking, and which institutions are comparable,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education.

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