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Clinton Urges College Presidents To Lower Tuition

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President Clinton urged higher-education leaders last week to curb their institutions' tuition costs in an effort to maintain access for low- and moderate-income students.

In remarks to representatives of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which was holding its annual meeting here, Mr. Clinton repeated a trademark refrain: For workers to compete in the new technological, information-based, global economy, they must have access to lifelong learning opportunities.

Citing tuition increases that have outstripped gains in middle- and lower-class wages, and a growing income gap between the rich and the poor, the president said college leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their institutions do not lock out students with low incomes.

"You've got increasing enrollments as you go up the income scale, which is good, and you've got decreasing enrollments as you go down the income scale, which is bad," Mr. Clinton said.

"Anything that can be done to ratchet down the burden on deserving students is a good thing to do," he said, naming a number of private colleges that have capped or lowered their tuition.

Election Strategy

Mr. Clinton's speech was one of several education-related events staged by the administration since the beginning of the month.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first lady, spoke about children and education last week before the annual meeting of the National School Boards Association here. She told the crowd that national leadership on school reform does not preclude local decisionmaking.

"It would be mighty hard," she said, with a nod toward her audience, "for Washington to tell anybody what to do at the local school level."

On Feb. 2, Mr. Clinton flew to New Hampshire, where he gave a stump speech at a high school in Salem; extolled his education record in a speech to students, teachers, and parents at a community arts center in Concord; and held a round-table discussion with participants in a school-to-work program in Nashua.

Education is shaping up to be a central component in President Clinton's re-election strategy. (See Education Week, Nov. 29, 1995, and Feb. 7, 1996.) Even in nonschool settings, his public remarks over the past week made references to education and lifelong learning as keys to improved economic productivity.

The higher-education leaders gave President Clinton a favorable reception.

Theme Resonates

Alan J. Stone, the president of Alma College, a 1,400-student school in Alma, Mich., said keeping tuition costs as low as possible "is what we'd all love to do. ... Everybody's trying to do it, but it's difficult."

He said the president "has a sense of the problem's we're facing, the problems the students are facing, and the fact that low-income students are being left behind."

But some observers say students from middle-income families are most likely to benefit from Mr. Clinton's proposals, which he touted in last week's speech, for $1,000 merit scholarships, $10,000 in tuition tax deductions for families earning less than $100,000, and an expansion of the work-study program. (See Education Week, Jan. 31, 1996.)

Mr. Clinton also praised college presidents whose schools require community service. He said such programs complement his AmeriCorps national-service program and new student-loan rules that help students who take lower-paying jobs upon graduation by allowing them to pay back their loans over a longer period of time.

"We can change the character of America by changing the attitudes and the approaches, the intuitive responses of this young generation, this brilliant, progressive, intelligent, and energetic group of people toward the idea of community," he said.

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