Obama’s university: college and government

Megan Chrisler, Features Editor

Millikin University students, and students all across the nation, took a great sigh of relief when Congress decided—believe it or not, they got along well enough to pass a bill—to keep low student interest rates on loans after they had increased due to the government’s budget problems. Now President Barack Obama, on a campaign-like tour through Buffalo, NY, encouraged more government involvement to keep college affordable.

“Higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America and if we don’t do something about keeping it within reach, it will create problems for economic mobility for generations to come. And that’s not acceptable,” Obama said to an audience at the University of Buffalo.

This statement is very true. Any decent-paying job requires some sort of degree: to the point that those without degrees are usually seen as ill contributors to society (it was only about 50 years ago that one only needed some kind of job experience in the field to have a good job). Even if this were not so, a highly educated nation is a strong nation, full of healthy individuals that live long lives, defend the land effectively and use resources strategically. An obstacle to higher education, then, should be unacceptable to the American people.

If anything were to be an obstacle for such a society, it would be money. The Obama administration, according to NPR’s Scott Horsley, spends around $150 billion a year on student aid, and this is completely discriminatory towards performance. This is one proposed solution for the problem of college affordability: to start making federal aid completely dependent on a college’s performance by creating “report cards” each year that record such things as graduation rates, how much the schools give in aid and how quickly the graduates find jobs.

In theory, this sounds great. Many problems with America’s public schools originate from union rules making it difficult to fire bad teachers on low performance. Parents can’t usually choose schools based on performance; they are most likely forced to send their child to the closest school in their district, which is not always the best option. But going this route means letting the federal government have more control in what should be the private sector by publicly keeping track of each university in America. And as ridiculous as college expenses are, it is safe to say that the Obama administration is in much worse need of money than anything else.

What the administration is proposing may not require more money, but it still requires spending money. The plan still assumes that students will need aid. Why can’t colleges find a plan that lowers tuition and gradually decreases the need for aid instead? Why is the question, “Where do we get student aid?” and not, “How can we lower the need for it?” Even Obama admitted that low interest rates don’t mean a significantly lighter debt (and he would know, wouldn’t he?). The problem is deeper than finding more money, and thus the solution should be found in a deeper place than the federal government—say, colleges themselves.

One might wonder if Congress can actually agree to do this anyway. Horsley correctly points out that they were bipartisan enough to agree on low student interest rates, so it’s possible. Interestingly, three states have already made a start on Obama’s solution: Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee. All three states are republican. So it might happen anyway without the federal government. Of course, this still doesn’t mean much good for Millikin students, seeing as Illinois is almost as financially sunk as the administration. But at least our interest rates are decent, right?