Last week, President Obama rolled through towns in Pennsylvania and New York during a two-day bus tour designed to introduce the latest in a series of proposals to strengthen the American middle class.
Offering little in the way of credible solutions and featuring a heavy dose of partisanship, he drove a message that was both out of touch and failed to offer credible solutions to make college more affordable for families.
As the cost of a college education continues to rise, the most expensive part remains room and board. Coming just days after the president finished up six rounds of golf and a week-long vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, the president was in no place to discuss affordable housing. According to the New York Destination Guide, a home like the $7 million one the Obama’s stayed in rents for around $12,000 a week.
To put that into perspective, at Miami University, ranked the most expensive four-year public university in the nation, room and board for the upcoming 2013-2014 academic year will cost on average $10,900.
Now the president is certainly entitled to a vacation, but it is wholly inappropriate for him to lecture colleges about curbing costs when he spent thousands of dollars more on housing in one week than the average student will spend on the most expensive part of a college education in a whole year.
If that juxtaposition alone wasn’t enough, it was even more inappropriate for the president to inject partisan politics into his speeches for the sole purpose of gaining leverage on the upcoming fiscal fight.
In fact, it was just a few months ago that partisan politics turned interest rates on student loans into a political football causing widespread uncertainty for millions of students trying to pay for school.
And if the inappropriateness wasn’t enough, the president failed to provide solutions to the problem at all.
His answer to solving the problem was to shame higher education into being more affordable by linking aid to affordability and by creating a federal rating system that would allow families to compare costs.
First things first: the president’s proposal of a federal rating system that allows parents to compare costs among different institutions isn’t even a proposal because it already exists.
In 2008, Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act which mandated the Department of Education publish information regarding the cost of a college education so parents and students could make informed decisions when considering which school was right for them.
Information like that, which the president so boldly called for, can be found at www.collegecost.ed.gov
As for the president’s remaining proposal to link affordability to federal aid, while it sounds catchy in practice, it would likely be more of a train wreck than his massive overhaul of health insurance.
Linking aid to affordability means fewer students will have access to schools that provide students with a top-notch education and set them up for future success.
It would most likely price students from disadvantaged backgrounds out of an education that would provide them with opportunities to earn more and receive a greater return on their investment. Beyond that, minorities represent a large portion of those students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In all, this proposal would likely create two separate but unequal educational experiences: one for those who could afford the resources the best universities have to offer without aid and one where minority students and the poorest of students are left with less opportunity because of poor public policy.
The rapidly rising cost of a college degree certainly needs to be reined in but partisan politics and poor proposals are not the answer. The real answer is coming from both red and blue states where governors and state legislators are taking bold steps to address the problem with innovative solutions.
In Oregon, there is talk of linking college tuition to a percentage of a student’s future earnings.
In Ohio, Governor Kasich and the General Assembly are working to provide more pathways for students from community colleges to the state’s four-year public universities.
If the president is serious about solving this problem, I would suggest that he drop the finger pointing and figure out that populism and Martha’s Vineyard are two things that don’t mix. Instead, he should start looking to the states for real solutions that won’t create a more unequal system.