President Obama raised several major higher education issues during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, including college affordability and the need for strong federal backing of research funding.
Obama also used the speech to announce today’s release of the administration’s College Scorecard, which aims to provide more information about colleges and universities for prospective students and their families.
Inside Higher Ed reported that Obama “called for major changes to the criteria accreditors use to evaluate colleges, asking Congress to either require accreditors to take college prices and educational value into account or to create an alternative system based on ‘performance and results.’”
But the story noted that the president’s speech and supplementary documents supplied by the White House did not contain many details. Terry Hartle, ACE senior vice president for government and public affairs, told Inside Higher Ed that the lack of clarity makes it difficult to draw conclusions about Obama’s plans.
“Colleges and universities are already subject to a very complex system of accountability before they can participate in federal student aid programs,” Hartle said. “We can always do a better job, and we look forward to working with the administration to ensure that higher education remains the best investment that a student can make.” He also noted that “the federal role in accreditation is already enormous.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Obama, for the second State of the Union in a row, said colleges must try to hold down tuition. The president also urged Congress “to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid."
But the president also called on lawmakers to continue spending federal dollars on the type of research conducted at many colleges and universities. “Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation,” Obama said. “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”
Obama also pushed for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system and a pathway to legal citizenship for many immigrants now in the country illegally. However, the president did not specifically mention the DREAM Act for individuals brought illegally to the United States as children.
In the Republican response, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, also invoked immigration and higher education issues, including calling for new federal financial aid for nontraditional college students, such as those participating in prior learning assessments and online courses.
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