Obama’s plan for education starts national debate

By Matt Daray


The future of higher education will take the forefront of political conversation across the country this week as the nation’s highest office begins to promote a new plan to mend the system.

President Barack Obama flustered some members of Congress Thursday after he announced his plans to reform education, including an overhaul of college rankings to include affordability and graduation ratings and a proposal to cap student loan repayments.


Obama discussed his plans for education while on a two-day tour Thursday and Friday to promote his new ideas. According to the president, the future of universities would be dependent on student loans, effectively allowing students who wish to attend a university which provides a good education and a high return on investment to receive more loans and grants with lower interest rates. Students who wish to attend a university with lower education and return on investment rates may do so, but more of the cost will be out of pocket.

In a White House press release, Obama explained how his plan would make college more affordable for everyone.

“Students and families and taxpayers cannot just keep subsidizing college costs that keep going up and up. Not when the average student now graduates more than $26,000 in debt,” he said. “We cannot price the middle class out of a college education. That’s why I proposed major new reforms to make college more affordable and make it easier for folks to pay for their education.”

Obama’s higher education reforms would be in effect by 2018 if passed by the House of Representatives and Senate.

The president’s proposal has opened a discussion on education, but university officials are unsure how the plan could affect the university at this time.

Chancellor Rita Cheng said the potential effects of Obama’s plan aren’t clear yet, but the announcement has placed a focus on the importance of going to college.

“There needs to be a lot more detail put forward before we have an opinion about that,” she said. “I will say, on the positive … (Obama is) putting the importance of a college education front and center of the national dialogue.”


Cheng said colleges that show they can provide quality education will benefit from this plan and she thinks the university is providing a quality education for students. The university will make education affordable and accessible whether or not the president’s plan is passed, she said.

David Yepsen, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute director, said Obama’s plan has opened a debate on education, but it will be hard to convince teachers and professors to back his plan.

“(The plan has) interesting ideas, they’re provocative,” he said. “They’ll get a lot of resistance from people in the education community, which is always reluctant to change.”

Yepsen said because the education community is steeped in tradition, it is often reluctant to changes. Until Obama’s plans are more known and Congress decides on an outcome, it is impossible to say how these ideas could affect the university, he said.

The president’s plan to reform education isn’t only directed at undergrads, however. Obama has recommended law schools consider transitioning to two-year programs rather than a traditional three-year program, helping alleviate the cost for law students.

Cynthia Fountaine, law school dean, said law schools have discussed education reform for several years and it’s good to see the president acknowledge law school reforms are needed as well. It is important for third-year law students to have a mix of class work and real-world experience, she said.

“Over the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of discussion about legal education reforms and BAR associations, the American BAR Association, law professors, law school deans at every level,” Fountaine said. “This is the first time President Obama has actually stated an opinion on this topic, so in my opinion, it’s good to have him involved in the conversation.”

It’s not just administration talking about the plan. Obama’s plan to restructure higher education has been met with mixed opinions from the student body.

Ryan Burkitt, a senior from Cornell studying exercise science, said the president’s plan would help students get into college and help out his situation.

“Yeah, (it would help). I take out loans and I do have Pell grants and stuff,” he said.

Tim Marshall, a junior from South Holland studying civil engineering, said parts of Obama’s plan could hurt students because some curriculum is harder than others to learn and it would punish students with difficult majors in lower-ranked schools.

“It could be beneficial in some areas, but more harmful in others,” he said. “Certain areas where the program is quite difficult and you have a large dropout rate, then the students who are actually going through that, they’re the ones who need the loans because if they have some financial mishap, they’re going to be completely screwed.”