NAICU Washington Update

The State of Union Address: Uncertainty for Colleges

January 25, 2012

In President Obama's State of the Union address linking the fate of the middle class to our ability to keep the American Dream alive, education in general - and access to a college education in particular - was a central focus.

Some of the President's message was welcome news for higher education.  In the course of the hour-long address, he highlighted the administration's commitment to student aid funding, and praised the affordability efforts of a group of presidents he met with in December.  He also called for a doubling of Work-Study funding, a freeze on a scheduled interest increase for student loans, and an extension of the tuition tax credit.

But along with pledging continued federal support for student aid, and scolding states for doing the opposite, he also issued a stark warning to colleges:  "If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down."

Exactly what the President will propose in this area is anyone's guess.  Still some insights can be gleaned from the Blueprint For An America Built to Last, the document released by the White House within minutes of the conclusion of the State of the Union.  While still sketchy, it starts to outline some of the action items likely to lie behind the rhetoric.

That document states that "The President is proposing to shift some Federal aid away from colleges that don't keep net tuition down and provide good value."  Thus, price is now also linked to an undefined use of the word "value."

Also in the Blueprint is a call for "Reforming colleges of education and making them more selective."  This language closely aligns with the administration stance at the teacher education negotiated-rulemaking session that NAICU participated in at the Department of Education last week (see separate NAICU Washington Update story).

More is likely to be known on Friday, when the president speaks at the University of Michigan, and is expected to offer additional details on his higher education agenda.  And still more layers of the onion should be peeled away at a NAICU Annual Meeting session next Tuesday, when a key White House higher education official will speak to attendees.

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