POLITICS
02/13/2013 05:21 pm ET

College Financial Aid Reform Highlighted In Obama's State Of The Union Address

President Barack Obama challenged Congress in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night to reform how college financial aid is distributed, and once again pushed schools to keep tuition low.

"Taxpayers can't keep on subsidizing higher and higher and higher costs for higher education," Obama said. "Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure that they do. So tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid."

It's the second year in a row in which Obama has used the State of the Union address to insist colleges be held accountable for rising costs at the risk of losing federal dollars. Last year, Obama said schools were "on notice."

"If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down," Obama said in 2012. Obama didn't provide further details in either SOTU speech, but after the 2012 speech, the Obama administration unveiled the "college shopping sheet," which ranked schools by tuition cost. His other proposals -- such as boosting federal grant programs -- never came to a vote in Congress. And the White House did release supplemental materials on Tuesday, in which the administration calls for a new accreditation system:

The President will call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.

Obama also announced Tuesday a new "College Scorecard," the details for which were released Wednesday by the White House. As the president described it in his speech, the scorecard will assist parents and students in finding out "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck."

The College Scorecard highlights five pieces of information: costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, median borrowing and the rate of graduate job placement. With the exception of graduate employment, information on all of these areas was already available through several different federal websites, but the interactive scorecard centralizes the information and allows students to search based on type of degree, region or major. The scorecard allows visitors to see how an institution compares to all other schools.

Not to be outdone, in the official GOP response, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called for a change in the way the U.S. pays for higher education.

"I believe in federal financial aid. I couldn't have gone to college without it," Rubio said. "But it's not just about spending more money on these programs, it's also about strengthening and modernizing them." As examples of such modernization, Rubio cited extending student aid to cover online courses, helping to retrain workers and veterans, and providing borrowers with more information about student loans.

On college financial aid, Rubio hasn't been that far off from Obama's position. Rubio co-sponsored the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which would provide a national, publicly available list that compares schools' graduation rates, average amount of student debt, and employment and salary data. They first introduced the legislation in February 2012.

"When I finished school, I owed over $100,000 in student loans, a debt I paid off just a few months ago," Rubio said Tuesday night. "Today, many graduates face massive student debt. We must give students more information on the costs and benefits of the student loans they're taking out."

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