In a conference call to discuss college access and affordability, United States Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lauded universities such as Eastern Michigan University for making education affordable.
“I want to commend the leadership of Eastern Michigan University for keeping costs down and putting students first, and fortunately, I hear stories like that all over the country,” Duncan said referring to EMU’s 0-0-0 initiative and its 2011-12 academic year 3.65 tuition increase.
“If universities are doing creative things [to keep costs down], we want to not just recognize it, but incentivize it.”
For universities such as EMU that try to make college affordable, Biden said they might qualify for the White House’s incentive plan called the “Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion.” Through this “fair formula” plan, the administration said $1 billion would be allocated to institutions that keep costs low.
“When 62 percent of all jobs in the near future will require a degree past high school, it doesn’t make sense to price kids out of education,” Biden said. “Neither of us — Barack or myself — would be in the positions we are in now were it not for the fact that we got a good education and someone helped us do it.”
Tuition costs have increased almost 300 percent in the past 20 years, Biden said.
“With that $1 billion pot, we’re going to be saying to universities, ‘Look, if you don’t keep tuition under control and bring down costs, then you’re not going to get this portion of the aid,’ ” Biden said.
Duncan said colleges and universities shouldn’t just be focused on cost saving measures but also whether or not students are receiving a “great value” and quality education.
“I think the key here is shared responsibility and so we need universities to do the right thing in tough economic times and not just keep down costs but make sure students are getting a great value, that they’re graduating,” he said. “It’s not just access. It’s all about attainment. We want to challenge states to continue to invest in education and we have to be a political partner. We have to walk the walk here.”
Biden said graduation rates must also increase in order for institutions to be declared a total success.
“If you find there’s a university where they’re only graduating 45 percent of the people who are enrolled or 60 percent of the people who are enrolled, then something’s going on,” Biden said.
“Either they’re enrolling people who aren’t qualified in the first place and taking their early money or they don’t have a system by which they can encourage students to stay and help them get through. The ultimate goal is to bring America’s rank in graduation rates from 16th place in the world to first by 2020.”
The administration plans to increase these rates by investing heavily into higher education. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act invested more than $40 billion in Pell Grants. Biden said those investments coupled with the funding provided in the Recovery Act and the president’s first two budgets, will more than double the total amount of funding available.
The bill increases the Pell Grant maximum award by the Consumer Price Index from 2013 through 2017, which is estimated to raise the award from $5,500 to $5,975 according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“That makes a difference in normal, everyday people’s lives,” Biden said.
The vice president also discussed the 7.4 million federal student loans that have interest rates that will double from 3.4 percent to 7.8 percent in the summer if Congress takes no action.
“We think that when you graduate, you shouldn’t have to graduate buried in debt,” Biden said. “You’ve got to go get the highest paying job whether it’s the one you wanted or not.”
With this in mind and the fact that the average student graduates with $25,000 in debt, Biden said the president has proposed a law that would cap loan repayments for graduates at 10 percent of disposable income.
“If you need the money, we know you’ll pay it back by being well-educated,” he said.
Biden said to alleviate the number of loans students take out, the administration plans to double the number of work study programs at universities. Almost $1 billion is invested in the programs each year, providing more than 700,000 jobs for students.
“We’re going to double those programs so you guys who are busting your necks to stay in school and qualify, that you’ll be able to find another vehicle,” he said. “You guys do more and are more engaged in good things than my generation ever was. You deserve all the assistance you can get because you’re the most qualified, the most giving and the most consequential generation we’ve ever had.”
Biden said it is a “national interest” to ensure every American has access to a quality and affordable education so the United States can once again out-compete and out-educate the rest of the world.
“The universities in the United States of America remain to be the envy of the world,” Biden said. “They are the single most powerful asset in giving us the ability to compete internationally and produce the best minds in the world. That’s why so many student s from Europe to Asia, from Latin America to Africa, from the Middle East to South America are trying to come to the United States to go to our universities.”