President Obama’s Proposed Higher Education Changes in SOTU

In his State of the Union address and a follow-up speech at the University of Michigan, President Barack Obama announced a major new higher education initiative, “a new, $1 billion version of his signature Race to the Top competition aimed at encouraging states to improve their higher education systems—while requiring that they maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education if they hope to win one of the grants.”

In addition, the Administration would create a $55 million grant contest, called the “First in the World” competition, to help institutions scale up promising strategies in areas such as technology and early-college preparation.

During his speech, President Obama warned universities that they might be in “danger of losing key federal student financial aid if they don't keep tuition in check and are unable to graduate higher numbers of students, including those eligible for Pell Grants, which help low-income students pay for college.” Specifically, the Administration would like to rethink the formula for distributing campus-based aid, such as that in the Perkins Loan Program, to reward institutions that keep tuition costs down while graduating higher numbers of low-income students.

To implement both proposals, Congressional approval would be needed, and to date, the reaction on Capitol Hill has been mixed.

Interestingly enough, the president did not address much of his K-12 agenda during his speech, specifically the Race to the Top program or the Administration’s recent decision to consider granting states NCLB waivers. An analysis from Education Week said that this could due to Congressional Republicans’ recent criticisms and efforts to de-fund these initiatives—or the president was concerned about alienating teachers, many of whom have not been supportive of the aforementioned initiatives.


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