U.S President Barack Obama launched a new push for college cost reforms on Thursday to help the middle class better afford higher education, but education officials said it may not have an impact on institutions such as Boston University. The proposed reforms include measures to cap student loans and make public universities more financially viable.
In his remarks at the State University of New York College in Buffalo, N.Y. on Thursday morning, Obama said he wants to begin rating colleges based on their values and returns on investment. Next, he said he wants higher education officials to consider using competency-based course credit and to offer online education.
Lastly, Obama said he would like to see students manage their debt using a program called Pay-As-You-Earn that caps loan payments at 10 percent of one’s total income.
Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts President Richard Doherty said while Obama’s plan specifically aims to make public universities more financially accessible, it is important to recognize the effort that officials at private institutions are putting forth to make their schools more affordable.
“Sometimes people forget how the private colleges are helping a huge number of students pay for college,” Doherty said. “AICUM has awarded about $2.8 billion in financial aid, and students at those same schools received about $154 billion in Federal Pell Grants.”
AICUM represents about 60 private colleges and universities in Massachusetts, providing need-based financial aid for students and managing public policy issues related to independent higher education in Massachusetts.
Obama said higher education cannot be priced as a luxury, as it is an “economic imperative.” He said students should not have to choose between excessive debt and not earning a degree.
“Higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America,” he said. “And, if we don’t do something about keeping it within reach, it will create problems for economic mobility for generations to come.”
However, since Obama’s plan is aimed at public universities, Doherty said it may not make a difference in states with a high concentration of private universities such as Massachusetts.
“There is a lot of concern about how the sticker prices for private universities can be a barrier to entry for many students,” Doherty said. “We need to collectively do a better job explaining what the expected net cost of attending a [private institution] would mean for families, so those of modest means will still apply to college and to schools like BU.”
Katy Abel, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education spokeswoman, said while many states have decreased their commitment to public higher education in recent years, Massachusetts officials’ efforts have increased.
“Public education in Massachusetts matters more than it ever has as we educate more than half of all undergraduates in the nation,” Abel said. “[On the other hand,] private universities play a huge role in the economy, and it will be interesting to see how this [Obama’s plan] will impact them.”