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Higher Ed Community Has Mixed Reviews on SOTU, College Scorecard

University Business, March 2013

At Tuesday’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, President Barack Obama discussed the importance of education at all levels and after putting emphasis on early education and job training for high schoolers, he asked colleges and universities to work to make higher education more affordable for students. 

“Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years,” Obama said. “But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.” 

Obama also stressed the importance of higher ed institutions having affordability and value by  asking Congress to include those traits in the Higher Education Act, which determines which colleges and universities receive federal aid. 

“My administration will release a new ‘College Scorecard’ that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” he added.

In the Republican response to the SOTU, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) cited the importance of funding student aid programs through his own experience with student loans, but he added that strengthening and modernizing the programs were just as important.

“A 21st century workforce should not be forced to accept 20th century education solutions,” Rubio said. “Today’s students aren’t only 18 year olds; they’re returning veterans; they’re single parents who decide to get the education they need to earn a decent wage; and they’re workers who have lost jobs that are never coming back and need to be retrained. We need student aid that does not discriminate against programs that nontraditional students rely on, like online courses, or degree programs that give you credit for work experience.”

Immediate reaction on Twitter was mixed. Some memorable examples:

  • “So #highered got all of 30 secs in the #sotu but I guarantee there are 5,000 unhappy colleges & thousands of unhappy profs/admins right now.” —Carlo Salerno, ‏@EDAnalyst
  • “Great that Pres. again mentions increased transparency in #highered. I will reintroduce Know Before You Go Act to help ensure this. #SOTU” —U.S. Senator (D-Ore.) Ron Wyden, ‏@RonWyden
  • “$9 minimum wage would wreak havoc with student work study funding and budgets #sotu #highered” —Debra Sanborn, ‏@DebraSanborn
  • “The WH scorecard for #highered is useful but narrow. Value of liberal education is complex & not part of conversation @arneduncan #SOTU” —Adam Shapiro, ‏@ChabssDean
  • “What #SOTU messages most resonated with you? #Highered #affordability & the proposed College Scorecard are important, much-needed steps!” —Margot MacKay, ‏@msbruschetta
  • “@CollegeSummit love the college scorecard! easy to metrics,costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, and median borrowing.”  —Thomas Peng, ‏@pengthom

Higher ed organizations had relatively positive reactions to Obama’s education plans, and wish to continue to push for college affordability.

  • “...The President has taken the lead by prioritizing college affordability and quality in his second term. But are we ready to act? To reach our collective goals, higher education must better serve all Americans, but it absolutely must be a viable solution to those for whom opportunity has been unequal or even nonexistent. To that end, we must make ‘wise investments’ in the communities and institutions that need them most. We must make investments in our elementary and secondary schools so that ‘none of our children start the race of life already behind.’ We must invest in our community and technical colleges so that dislocated workers can get the training and education they need to remain relevant in the workforce. We must ensure that our collective investments in higher education—at all levels and across all sectors—help students leave college with more than just debt, but rather as graduates who have earned high quality degrees or credentials that put them on a path toward financial stability.”  Michelle Asha Cooper, president, Institute for Higher Education Policy
  • "While the Scorecard is promising in concept, it is ill-suited to provide meaningful information on distance learning programs. Data used to produce the Scorecard comes from the Department of Education and the IPEDS (Integrated Postecondary Education Data System) reports submitted by colleges and universities across the nation. Many categories, especially the five 'key points' used in the Scorecard, are based on 'full-time, first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates,' a definition that is geared toward campus-based schools. More than 34 million Americans, have some college but no degree according to the Lumina Foundation. Many believe that to reach the Administration’s goal of 60 percent degree completion by 2020, America needs to find a way to help these working adults finish their degrees. Unfortunately, at institutions such as Excelsior College, an accredited nonprofit that focuses on meeting the needs of adult learners, students are neither full-time nor first-time. As a result, Excelsior is excluded from the Scorecard database, even as it represents a 21st century model for reaching the President’s goal. - Statement from Excelsior College (N.Y)
  • “We’re seeing more and more American families making a commitment to invest long-term in higher education—including the President himself. With two young daughters and college savings plans of his own, President Obama understands the importance of saving for college. … For the young minds of today to be the leaders of tomorrow and remain competitive in the global marketplace, we must make sure they are receiving the best education possible. Being fiscally prepared for that education is of utmost importance. We thank President Obama for shedding light on this very important issue.” Hon. Michael L. Fitzgerald, Chair of the College Savings Plans Network and State Treasurer of Iowa
  • “The President outlined proposals that invest in the success of our generation—by making college more affordable, connecting education to work, training our young workers, and helping us reach the middle class. We are excited for his solutions to make colleges more accountable and more affordable. We also look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to avoid sequestration and the deep cuts to key youth priorities like job training and education that would result. However, at a time of unprecedented youth unemployment, our generation must continue to push our political leaders to take bold steps to put this generation back to work.” Aaron Smith, co-founder & executive director, Young Invincibles (an organization representing the interests of 18- to 34-year-olds, with higher education and other issues) 
  • “Our public higher education institutions have faced the dual challenge in recent years of falling state appropriations and large increases in student enrollment. These factors have caused a substantial increase in tuition even though public schools have kept their education cost per student to an average of just 1.2 percent above the rate of inflation for many years. Make no mistake about it though, as President Obama suggested in his State of the Union address, universities need to continue building on the steps they’ve taken on cost.  Public universities have a responsibility to spend students’ tuition dollars wisely.  We must provide an opportunity for a quality education that results in students completing their degrees and achieving their career goals.  A student who leaves college with a diploma in hand gets much more value out of their tuition than someone who leaves with no degree and debt.”  Peter McPherson, president, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

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