While President Barack Obama is in the process of rolling out a series of bold new higher education initiatives, Penn administrators say the White House’s ideas will likely leave the University untouched.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama proposed holding out on federal aid for colleges and universities that fail to keep burgeoning sticker prices under control, among other policies targeting higher education and college students. Then, during a Friday morning speech at the University of Michigan, the president closed off a three-day, five-state tour by expanding on his college policy proposals.
“Let me put colleges and universities on notice,” he said Friday during his trip to Michigan. “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.”
A fact sheet on the speech released by the White House suggested that the president’s goal would be to “keep net tuition down,” making it unlikely that a school with generous financial aid like Penn would be affected, despite steadily rising tuition.
According to Director of Student Financial Aid Bill Schilling, even a federal funding cut for Penn would jeopardize only about five percent of the $165 million in projected grants this year.
“We would expect to have a robust aid program even if there were cuts to federal programs,” Schilling wrote in an email.
As part of the general plan, the president proposed a $1 billion college equivalent to the K–12 Race to the Top program, in which states would be rewarded for driving “systemic change” in their policies, keeping tuition down and making it easier to earn a degree.
He also put forward a separate $55 million competition to “boost productivity and enhance teaching and learning,” according to the White House fact sheet.
Additionally, Obama’s plan included increasing funding for Perkins loans from $1 billion to $8 billion, preventing the scheduled increase of Stafford loan interest rates and doubling the number of work study jobs.
Such financial aid initiatives, if implemented, would impact some Penn students.
Wharton junior Laura Brown, president of the College Republicans and a Daily Pennsylvanian staff member, is herself a Stafford loan recipient.
“[Stafford and Perkins loans] are really great programs,” she said. “But if the president is proposing expanding those programs, he needs to show elsewhere where he’s going to raise revenue, or cut the budget.”
Schilling added that Brown’s situation is not unique among Penn’s student body.
The White House also called for a “College Scorecard” for every degree-granting institution, which would include information about actual college costs, graduation rates and potential earnings.
Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, explained that such initiatives could be important, especially for schools like Penn where the sticker price is so high.
“The research has suggested that the reference to these sticker prices in the media can discourage students from low-income and working-class backgrounds from applying,” he said.
Graduate School of Education professor Laura Perna agreed, and praised the president’s other proposed initiatives.
“[The president] has certainly been paying attention to how the public is concerned about the rising costs of higher education,” Perna said.
However, she cautioned that “the resources are finite, so how they’re going to try and accomplish these multiple goals with limited finances is unclear,” she said.
College junior and Penn Democrats President Andrew Silverstein agreed with Perna about the importance of Obama’s initiatives.
“I think that the president understands the value of education for young people,” he said. “Not only for us individually but for the economy and the future.”Comments powered by Disqus
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