BUFFALO - Calling higher education an "economic imperative," President Barack Obama is pushing for an ambitious new government rating system for colleges that would judge schools on affordability and performance and ultimately determine how federal financial aid is distributed.
The rating system, which the president wants implemented before the 2015 school year, would evaluate colleges on several criteria, including average tuition and student loan debt, graduation rates, and the average earning of graduates. Obama says he will ask Congress to link the new rating system to the way federal financial aid is disbursed, with students attending highly-rated schools receiving larger grants and more affordable student loans.
"It's time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results and reward schools that deliver American students of our future," Obama told a crowd of more than 7,000 at the University of Buffalo.
President Barack Obama talks about the high cost of higher education at the State University at Buffalo today.
Obama detailed his proposal on the first stop of a two-day bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania. The tour underscores the White House's desire to stay focused on domestic issues, even as foreign policy crises in Egypt and Syria vie for his attention.
Throughout the summer, the White House has been seeking to keep the president's public agenda centered on middle-class economic issues as a way to rally public support for his positions ahead of looming battles in the fall with congressional Republicans over the budget and raising the nation's debt limit. On Thursday, he tried to draw a clear distinction with some of his Republican opponents.
"Rather than seeking, keeping focus on a growing economy that creates good middle-class jobs, you know, 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 should shut down government if they can't shut down Obamacare," Obama said.
Obama said a big part of middle-class security includes fundamentally rethinking how to pay for higher education.
"Higher education cannot be a luxury, it's an economic imperative," he said. "Every American family should be able to get it."
The White House chose the University of Buffalo because it is part of the State University of New York system, which the Obama administration credits as a leader in affordability and innovation. The attention to school costs comes after Obama and Congress recently cooperated on a new law governing student loans. But Obama said loan amounts aren't keeping up with skyrocketing college costs.