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Early Capitol Hill Response Mixed on Obama Higher Ed. Proposals

By Alyson Klein — January 27, 2012 1 min read
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President Barack Obama’s sweeping plans to shake up higher education funding will need to get through a politically polarized Congress, and the initial reviews from some top education lawmakers indicate a rocky road ahead.

The president’s wish list includes creating a form of Race to the Top, and the Investing in Innovation program for colleges. And he wants to rejigger funding for campus-based aid programs so that they go to institutions that give students good bang for their buck. More here.

Reaction on Capitol Hill was mixed.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said he’d take a look at some of the affordability proposals. “Competition and transparency are basic principles Republicans have long supported to help lower costs in higher education, and institutions have a responsibility to do everything they can to provide a good education at an affordable price,” he said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was less enthusiastic. He said that taking away campus-based financial aid hurts students, not colleges.

Within the same paragraph of his State of the Union address, the president first promised to increase student aid, and then threatened to reduce it, saying that if tuition goes up, taxpayer funding will go down. But federal taxpayer funding for colleges and universities is almost all through grants and loans that go to about 20 million students, so his threat to reduce federal spending for colleges is really a threat to cut federal aid to students....Colleges do need to become more efficient. I've suggested that they could offer three-year degrees to some students. Colleges could also operate more in the summertime, which would make more efficient use of campuses and reduce their costs.

Key Democrats were more receptive.

“I applaud the President’s focus on making college affordable and accessible for all students,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee in a statement. He said he’s looking forward to reviewing the proposal.

And U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House education committee, gave the proposals the thumbs-up in his statement:

The cost of education is one of the most urgent kitchen table issues for the middle class. Congress needs to join the President in addressing these issues. The President's Higher Education Proposal rightly calls on colleges, universities and states to maintain a commitment to keep college costs low making it easier for American families and their children to afford a college education.