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Education Funding

Obama Proposes New Race to Top Aimed at Higher Ed.

By Michele McNeil — January 27, 2012 2 min read
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The White House wants another Race to the Top competition for states, this time aimed at making higher education cheaper and better.

President Barack Obama’s plan, which he is fleshed out in a speech at the University of Michigan this morning, would create a new, $1 billion version of his signature Race to the Top competition for states to improve their higher education systems.

To snag the grants, states would have to smooth the transition between K-12 and college education by aligning entrance and exit standards between the two systems. That proposal would appear to build on an incentive in the original, $4 billion Race to Top for K-12 (Race to the Top Classic), which rewarded states for many things, including if they signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative—an effort by states to create more uniform, rigorous standards that prepare students for post-secondary education.

That may be a tall order in the current cloudy economic forecast, in which nearly every state has squeezed funding for post-secondary education in recent years.

“We’re telling the states, if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we’ll help you do it,” Obama said in his speech. “We will give you additional federal support if you are doing a good job of making sure that all of you aren’t loaded up with debt when you graduate from college. And states would have to maintain adequate levels of funding for higher education.”

The adminstration also is seeking to create a $55 million grant contest, dubbed the “First in the World” competition, to help institutions scale up promising strategies in areas such as technology and early-college preparation.

Obama is also calling on Congress to rework federal, school-based financial aid programs, including the Perkins Loan program. Right now, that aid is distributed under a formula that rewards schools in part for longevity. Under the change, colleges that keep tuition low and graduate a relatively large share of Pell Grant-eligible students would be rewarded with a larger share of the grants.

“We are putting colleges on can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year,” Obama said. “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down. We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don’t.”

And Obama is proposing a new $55 millon competition that would dole out money to colleges and universities to scale up promising practices in areas including technology and early college preparation. At first blush, that program appears modeled on the Investing in Innovation grant program, which offered similar rewards to schools and non-profits.

The administration is also planning to create a “College Scorecard” to make it easier for students and parents to choose a college they can afford, and that will help advance their career goals. The so-called “shopping sheet” would include post-graduate earnings and employment information, according to published reports.

The proposals would all require congressional approval.

UPDATE: So far, GOP lawmakers, at least in the House, didn’t immediately throw cold water on the proposals. But they don’t sound like they’re jumping up and down with enthusiasm over them either.

Here’s a snippet from a statement by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee:

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. We need responsible solutions that will serve the students of today and tomorrow without increasing the federal role in our nation's education system. The president has proposed a number of interesting ideas that deserve a careful review."

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