In a speech accepting his nomination for re-election Thursday night, President Obama laid out an ambitious higher education goal for his second term: he said he’d “work with colleges and universities” to slow the rise in college tuition by half over the next decade -- but gave no details on how he would accomplish that. It was the first discussion at the Democratic National Convention of what education policy might look like in a second Obama term.
During the State of the Union speech in January, Obama proposed expanding campus-based financial aid programs -- such as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and the Perkins Loan -- and using the extra money to reward colleges that keep tuition low or provide “good value” (and punish those that do not).
Early attempts by the Education Department to implement parts of that plan, such as a new competitive grant program for higher education, went nowhere in the Senate in next year’s budget negotiations. But Thursday night’s speech appeared to signal that the president, if re-elected, intends to keep pushing colleges to keep tuition prices low -- or at least slow their growth.
How Obama would do that, let alone whether he would succeed, is unclear. The past two decades have seen several federal attempts to pressure colleges to lower tuition, most recently in 2003, when Republicans in Congress proposed cutting off federal aid to colleges whose price increases outstripped inflation. Colleges greeted the proposal with howls of protest, and the measure never got beyond the education committee.