Obama's College Affordability Plan? Base Financial Aid on Government Formula

By Susan Jones | August 22, 2013 | 8:13 AM EDT

Education Secretary Arne Duncan (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama will pressure colleges and universities to change their behavior by ranking them according to a government formula that measures tuition, minority enrollment, graduation rates, student debt, and graduates' earnings.

"We're going to start to rank universities, understand who's doing a good job and who's not, and ultimately start to move financial aid, move resources, towards those universities that are very serious about this mission," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told MSNBC Thursday morning.

"Right now, we put out about $150 billion dollars in grants and loans each year, but it's all on inputs on the front end, not on the back end; and we have so many universities that are trying to do the right thing; we have states that are starting to invest more: We want to incentivize the good acctors, and say to those that aren't serious about containing costs, that aren't serious about graduation rates, 'Hey, you have to change your behavior."

Duncan says he hears frequent complaints from "hard-working, middle class folks" that college is too expensive -- "it's just for rich folks. And the president just sees a real problem with that," Duncan added.

On Thursday, President Obama will take his college affordability plan on the road to New York and Pennsylvania. Duncan appeared on morning news shows to give a general preview of what the president will say.

"This is about shared responsibility," Duncan told MSNBC. "We need to continue to invest -- going to college is the best investment we can make, but be very, very clear -- we cannot do it by ourselves. They have to reinvest -- universities have to do a better job of both containing costs and building cultures, not just around access but around completion."

Duncan praised innovations such as colleges mmoving to three-year degrees; dual enrollment programs that allow high school juniors and seniors to take college-level classes; and technology (online classes) to drive down costs and increase passing rates. "So there's a tremendous amount of innovation we see as we're traveling the country," he said. "What we haven't done, is we haven't seen those best practices go to scale. So none of this is easy, but it's happening in the real world. We just want to see this become the norm, rather than the exception.

"Again, I think hard-working am families deserve and need the chance to go to college, but they can't be saddled with massive debt in the back end. It's simply not fair."

Duncan said a rating system in which colleges are ranked among comparable institutions will bring "greater transparency."

"We have 7,000 institutions of higher education -- we have the best system of higher education in the world -- we just want young people to have much better information so they can make the best choice to pursue their dreams."

The New York Times reported on Thursday that tying financial aid to college ratings would require congressional legislation.

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 new legislation.

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