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Politics and Higher Ed

The President and frontrunner candidates on tuition costs
University Business, March 2012
President Obama and his main opponents Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are all expressing concern about the high costs of college.

When President Obama called for more college graduates during his 2009 State of the Union Address, higher education leaders embraced the challenge. His 2012 speech challenging colleges and universities to control tuition—and adding there would be dire funding consequences if they didn’t—was not as well received.

American Association of State Colleges and Universities President Muriel Howard expressed concern in a statement about the President saying institutions that can’t hold costs down risk losing federal support. “While I understand his viewpoint, public institutions in 40 states do not have complete control of their pricing.”

“Colleges, states, and the federal government must work together in a climate of mutual trust and collaboration,” NAICU President David L. Warren said in a statement. “The answer is not going to come from more federal controls on colleges or states, or by telling families to judge the value of an education by the amount young graduates earn in the first few years after they graduate.” He emphasized the need to continue to serve low-income students and provide quality education to all students.

In subsequent speeches, Pres. Obama suggested increasing funding for the Perkins Loan Program and Federal Work-Study with distribution tied to controlling costs and student success. ACE President Molly Corbett Broad wrote in her weekly “President to President” update, “While we support the president’s goal, we are concerned about how such a provision would be implemented.”
While people might be conflicted over Obama’s higher ed proposals, at least they know where he stands. Leading republican candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich don’t have higher ed sections on their official websites (Gingrich does have a K-12 section). In various stump speeches, they have both spoken in favor of reducing the cost of a college education.

During a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event on Jan. 25, Gingrich compared the rising cost of higher education to that of health care, saying the “scale of bureaucracy built into higher education makes it more expensive than it should be.” He sees the importance of STEM education and thinks students at all levels should be encouraged to pursue them. He also favors Pell Grants.
Romney made some missteps in January when he praised for-profit colleges for their ability to graduate students at lower costs. Pundits and experts were quick to point out that community colleges are a far more affordable option. In the end, it would appear he feels the free market and competition will help bring costs down.

One thing is clear, with five more months until the Republican convention in August, and eight months until the election, the candidates’ stand on a variety of issues, including higher ed, will continue to be critical on the campaign trail.