WH: Obama's College-Cost Proposals 'Not Going to Be Popular With Everybody'

By Susan Jones | August 21, 2013 | 10:04 AM EDT

Obama speaks to college graduates (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama is about to propose "fundamental reforms that would bring real change to the way that we pay for college education in this country," a White House spokesman said on Wednesday.  

Those reforms "are not going to be popular with everybody, but they are going to be in the best interests of middle-class families," White House spokesman Josh Earnest

But the White House refused to give details: "Well, you have to wait til Thursday," Earnest told reporters. "I don't want to give away the secret now."

President Obama's next bus tour begins on Thursday. He's traveling to New York and Pennsylvania to "talk about his vision for ensuring a better bargain for the middle class," Earnest said.

"He's going to talk a little bit this week about college affordability," the spokesman added, repeating President Obama's contention that a college education is essential to ensuring that middle-class families have access to economic opportunity.

Earnest noted that average tuition at a public four-year college has more than tripled over the last three decades, while family incomes have "barely increased," he said. "The average student today graduates with more than $26,000 in student debt,"  he said.

Data released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Education Department, shows that in-state tuition at community college jumped almost 6 percent, to an average of $3,131 last year; in-state tuition at a public, four-year college averaged $8,655, up 5 percent; and private, four-year school tuition and fees averaged $29,056, a 4 percent increase.

Add room, board and fees into the mix, and the numbers for four-year colleges are much higher. (According to one survey, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. is the most expensive college in the nation, costing a total of $61,236 for the 2012-2013 year. N New York University was second, at $59,337.)

The NCES found that 71 percent of all undergraduate students received some type of financial aid in the 2011-12 school year, up from 66 percent four years earlier.

"Increasing federal student aid alone will not control the cost of college," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement issued on Tuesday.  He urged "state policymakers and individual colleges and universities to do their part in taking action against rising college tuition. Together we can take collective action to help make college more accessible, affordable, and attainable for middle class Americans across the country."

At the White House on Tuesday, Earnest told reporters that Americans who are college-educated tend to earn more and find jobs more easily.

He also referred to NCES statistics showing that 42 percent of students received federal grants in 2011-2012, up from 28 percent from four years earlier, and 40 percent received federal loans, an increase of 5 percentage points.

"Now there's also a study that was published today that shows that the federal government is doing more than ever to open up the door to a college education to middle-class families, that the federal government is providing more assistance than ever before," Earnest said.

"But government assistance can't keep up with skyrocketing costs. So what the president believes that we need to do is we need to fundamentally rethink and reshape the college -- the higher education system and we need find a way to build on innovation.

"So the president on this bus tour will lay out some fundamental reforms that would bring real change to the way that we pay for college education in this country.

"Now, the proposals that the president is going to lay out are not going to be popular with everybody, but they are going to be in the best interests of middle-class families. And the president is looking forward to having that discussion over the course of Thursday and Friday, in addition to riding on a bus."

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