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Obama raises eyebrows with controversial college aid plan


Monday, August 26, 2013

The college search process can be a daunting experience for students and parent alike. In an attempt to make it easier for students to find a school that suits their needs, President Barack Obama has called for the introduction of a new system that would not only make colleges more accountable, but also tie federal aid to their performance.

Empowering families
Making colleges more transparent is at the heart of Obama's proposals, but his desire to tie the amount of federal funding to how well colleges perform across certain metrics has proven divisive among the academic community, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Under the new plan, schools would be assessed against several criteria, including accessibility for students from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, how affordable their degree programs are, and overall student learning outcomes. Colleges that score highly would receive more federal funding, and students enrolling in these schools could obtain larger Pell Grants and more affordable student loans.

"We need much greater transparency for the public," said Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, as quoted by the news source. "We have to get them better information. You want to see the good actors be rewarded. You want to see them get more resources."

Mixed reception
According to U.S. News and World Report, the proposed system could prove to be unpopular with some academic leaders. Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, acknowledged that some colleges would be more likely to welcome the measures than others, but noted that many schools have actively embraced greater transparency.

If the plan is approved, the college ratings would be published prior to the beginning of the 2015 academic year, and aid to colleges would be affected before 2018, pending approval from Congress.

The news source reported that some states already allocate funding to colleges based on performance, including Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee. During the past 30 years, reductions in state educational funding have resulted in a 250 percent increase in the cost of earning a college degree. Therefore, the introduction of the new system could encourage schools to focus on performance to reduce tuition costs and other expenses typically faced by students.

"This country is only going to be as strong as its next generation," Obama said during a stop at the University of Buffalo in New York, as quoted by the news source. "I have confidence that our nation's colleges and universities will step up ... and lead the way to do the right thing for students."

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