Monday, April 23, 2012

Where Obama and Romney Agree on College Costs

While they may be miles apart on most things, there is one aspect of college costs that President Obama and  his presumed Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, agree on.

Romney has taken some flack for his answer to a  high school senior who, at a townhall meeting in Youngstown, Ohio, asked about the costs of college.  Here is an excerpt from a New York Times blog ("Romney in Ohio:  Want College?  Can't Afford It?  Too Bad," by David Firestone, The Loyal Opposition 03/05/2012):
“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that,” he said, to sustained applause from the crowd at a high-tech metals assembly factory here. “Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

There wasn’t a word about the variety of government loan programs, which have made it possible for millions of students to get college degrees. There wasn’t a word urging colleges to hold down tuition increases, as President Obama has been doing, or a suggestion that the student consider a work-study program.

And there wasn’t a word about Pell Grants, in case the student’s family had a low enough income to qualify. That may be because Mr. Romney supports the House Republican budget, which would cut Pell Grants by 25 percent or more at a time when they are needed more than ever.

Granted Mr. Romney could have gone into some detail about funding options, but his initial point, to shop around, is solid advice.  People should consider the cost factors of colleges when selecting a school or helping their children select schools.  Someone who takes 5 or 6 years to complete a 4 year degree, amassing loans of $100,000 to earn a degree in a field that pays  $30,000 might be setting him or herself up for long term financial trouble.

President Obama calls for colleges to make cost data easy to find.  Here's an excerpt from a press release today:
Providing better data for families to choose the right college for them: The President is calling for a College Scorecard for all degree-granting institutions, designed to provide essential information about college costs, graduation rates, and potential earnings, all in an easy-to-read format that will help students and families choose a college that is well suited to their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their career and educational goals.

In addition to beautiful landscaping and gleaming gyms families need to look at costs.  AP and Honors courses can help students test out of or skip over some of the basic classes.  

The Inquirer had an excellent story today, "Community colleges' crunch time," by Rita Giordano, pointing out that some students are taking advantage of community colleges for the first year or so of college, living at home instead of dorms, and then transferring to four-year schools.  

One caveat -- three Harvard scholars did a study of for profit colleges and found that students who attended them had greater debt and lower income than students who attended more traditional colleges and universities (See "For Profit post secondary school sector:  Nimble critters or agile predators," by David J Deming, Claudia Goldin, and Lawrence F. Katz, Feb. 2012, 42 page pdf)

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