President Barack Obama hit the road last week with a two-day bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania to promote his new college affordability plan as he gears up to face the next round in the U.S. budget battle when Congress convenes for its new legislative session starting Sept. 9.
Over the back-to-school weeks in late August and September, Obama is targeting rising college costs as part of a series of speeches that seek “a better bargain for the middle class” in terms of education, jobs, housing and health care. Not surprisingly, the speeches blame Republican lawmakers for hurting the middle classes with a growing U.S. wealth gap — and Republicans, for their part, have responded by calling Obama off the mark.
“At a time when a higher education has never been more important or more expensive, too many students are facing a choice that they should never have to make,” Obama said in his kickoff speech on college tuition at the University of Buffalo on Thursday. “Either they say no to college and pay the price for not getting a degree — and that’s a price that lasts a lifetime — or you do what it takes to go to college, but then you run the risk that you won’t be able to pay it off because you’ve got so much debt.”
Obama rightly stated that college has never been more expensive, stating that over the past three decades, the average tuition at a public four-year college has gone up by more than 250% while a typical family’s income has only gone up 16%. The average student today will graduate with more than $26,000 in debt, he said.
Obama’s plan would rate colleges before the 2015 school year based on measures such as tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates and the percentage of lower-income students who attend, according to The New York Times. “The ratings would compare colleges against their peer institutions. If the plan can win congressional approval, the idea is to base federal financial aid to students attending the colleges partly on those rankings,” The Times reported.
At the same time, the president took a dig at his opponents in Congress, accusing them of throwing up obstacles to U.S. economic recovery and blocking the attempts of average Americans who are trying to keep up with the rising cost of living.
“Rather than keeping focus on a growing economy that creates good middle-class jobs, we’ve seen a faction of Republicans in Congress suggest that maybe America shouldn’t pay its bills that have already been run up, that we shut down government if they can’t shut down Obamacare.”
After its five-week recess, Congress on Sept. 9 will renew talks on three financial issues: 1) a stopgap measure to fund the government in the first few months of the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1; 2) raising the government’s $16.7 trillion debt limit; and 3) replacing about $1 trillion in the across-the-board spending cuts of sequestration.
Already, Obama’s college plan has received much press and commentary nationwide, not all of it good.