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Senate Committee Tackles College Affordability


February 7, 2012

Senate Committee Tackles College Affordability

By: Mitch

On February 2, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing titled “Innovations in College Affordability.” The purpose of the hearing was to explore new and creative methods to make higher education more affordable for all students. The renewed interest in the issue of college affordability has been partially motivated by President Obama’s State of the Union address last month. In his address, and in a subsequent speech at the University of Michigan, he called on states to make higher education a bigger priority in their budgets and to suspend cuts to state funding, which he identified as the leading cause for the rise in cost. He also put colleges and universities “on notice,” threatening to reduce federal funding to institutions that do not find ways to bring down costs and reduce tuitions.  

At the hearing, Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter discussed some of the Administration’s proposals to address college affordability, including a Race to the Top style program that would create a $1 billion grant competition for states that keep costs under control. Kanter noted that this proposed program would provide incentives for states to enact policies that would restructure their financing systems for higher education to reward institutions for quality and student success, reform acceptance and graduation standards to facilitate on-time completion and provide consistent state funding for higher education.   

Charlie Earl, Executive Director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, touted the success of community and technical colleges in his state as providers of affordable higher education. He noted that community and technical colleges in Washington have kept tuition costs down, averaging $3,542 per year for full time students. He also pointed to a strong network of financial aid and efforts to reduce student expenses through technology as additional ways to make college more affordable. 

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