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Obama Outlines Higher Education Priorities
January 26, 2016
In his final State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted three priorities in higher education that his administration will continue to focus on in his last year in office: making community college free for responsible students; making student loans more affordable; and simplifying the financial aid process to improve college choice. While none of these are new efforts, together they round out this administration’s access and affordability approach to higher education policy, and the achievements made in increasing the Pell Grant maximum and making the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent.
In his address, Obama said one way to “cut the cost of college” is to make the first two years free at community college. The community college proposal was first announced in January 2015, and would bring together federal, state, and community college funds to provide free tuition to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and are on track to complete academic credits transferable to the state four-year institution; or job training in programs with high graduation and job placement rates. Since last year, many states have adopted these or similar types of programs for their community college students. Additionally, Democratic presidential candidates have picked up and expanded on the notion of federal funding for state colleges. Federal funding has not been provided for this or other proposals, but the administration is likely to request funds for the community college program in the FY 2017 budget, expected on February 9.
Efforts to make student loans more affordable, and to simplify the financial aid process have been ongoing through legislative and regulatory initiatives. Those will continue as the administration works with Congress on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 2016.