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The Bright Spot in President Obama’s Plan on Student Debt and College Affordability

Following a disappointing summer for students who saw Congress drag its feet on keeping student loan interest rates low, President Obama addressed the high cost of college last week at the University of Buffalo in upstate New York, saying rather poignantly:

“We’ve got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt."

In his speech, he outlined an ambitious plan to make college affordable for more Americans.

According to the White House’s fact sheet on student loan debt and college affordability:

His [the President’s] plan will measure college performance through a new ratings system so students and families have the information to select schools that provide the best value. And after this ratings system is well established, Congress can tie federal student aid to college performance so that students maximize their federal aid at institutions providing the best value.

The President’s plan will also take down barriers that stand in the way of competition and innovation, particularly in the use of new technology, and shine a light on the most cutting-edge college practices for providing high value at low costs. And to help student borrowers struggling with their existing debt, the President is committed to ensuring that all borrowers who need it can have access to the Pay As You Earn plan that caps loan payments at 10 percent of income and is directing the Department of Education to ramp up its efforts to reach out to students struggling with their loans to make sure they know and understand all their repayment options.

In a report called “Doing Away With Debt,” authors Michael Dannenberg and Mamie Voight (from The Education Trust) explain that responsibility for shortcomings in the higher education system is shared by all: The federal government, state governments and institutions of higher learning.

“We can’t fix all the problems that contribute to this loss of talent overnight, but we can fix one right now: the high cost of college,” they write. “We can stop spending so many billions of dollars – in federal, state, and institutional funds – on the students, families, and institutions that do not need the money, and start directing it toward those who do.”

While the reviews for President Obama’s agenda has been mixed, we’ll take a look on the bright side: by creating a new rating system for colleges based on affordability and student performance, the President’s new plan intends to provide the financial help that many of our students deserve, while also providing the kick that many colleges may need to shape up.