When Barack Obama assumed the presidency, he was confronted by a nasty set of problems in higher education. High student loan debt, access, accountability, and everything in between were put in the president’s lap and have been issues he’s addressed in both terms. Given the nature and sheer number of challenges, his administration has done a great deal to foster positive change and progress.
I decided to write an assessment of Obama’s overall higher education record, issuing a letter grade (A-F) to make my position abundantly clear. I will use a sampling of his initiatives to assess his record.
College Scorecard. With the increasing number of college graduates bogged down by student loans, Obama wanted to find a way to help students and parents find schools that would give them the most for their money. To do this, he created College Scorecard with the input from college students and their families.
The College Scorecard factors in several things that are important to students and their parents, such as the average amount of debt that students have after college and the average amount that they earn after graduating. The website allows people to search for colleges based on the program, degree, college size, location, and other factors. Then, they can compare several colleges to determine which one will give them the best value for their money.
College Degree Attainment. As president, Barack Obama hoped to ensure that college students received the education they desired without accruing large amounts of debt. To do this, he enlarged the amount of federal support that students can receive by increasing the number of Pell Grants awarded, offering the Education Tax Credit, and decreasing student loan interest rates.
Expansion of Community Colleges. In July 2012, President Obama proposed the American Graduation Initiative, intended to put more money and planning into community colleges, helping to promote more affordable options and high levels of training for all prospective college students. As part of this initiative, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act poured $2 billion over the course of four years into an expansion of career training at community colleges, focusing on the high-demand health care field.
Higher College Tax Credits. The Obama administration tripled the tax credits available to students and parents of students paying college expenses, too. The American Opportunity Tax Credit gives a $2,500 tax credit maximum per student and students can claim it for four years. According to the IRS, up to 40 percent of the credit is refundable, up to $1,000, to people that file even if no taxes are owed. In addition to courses and fees, the new tax credit also covers related costs like books, supplies, and required class materials.
Income-Based Loan Repayment. President Obama has often said that he believes that paying for college should not overwhelm graduates. As a reflection of this, he expanded income-based repayment options to keep the bills from college from becoming unmanageable. Around two-thirds of college students have debt of over $23,000 upon graduation. This can be especially difficult for students that want to enter public service jobs and those who face unexpected financial hardships like unemployment or serious illness.
Students can limit payments to 10 percent of income — a reduction from 15 percent in the previous law — which means a reduction of $110 per month for unmarried borrowers that owe $20,000 and make $30,000 per year. An estimated 1 million borrowers will be positively impacted by this change in repayment options. Also, borrowers that make monthly payments will be allowed debt forgiveness after 20 years. Public service workers like nurses, teachers, and military employees will receive debt forgiveness after just 10 years.
When Obama assumed the presidency, a nasty set of problems confronted him in higher education. Given the nature and sheer number of challenges, his administration has done a great deal to foster positive change and progress.
Overall, therefore, I think the president deserves an A-, which reflects his solid higher education record as commander-in-chief. I am sure many will disagree with this assessment, but it is my opinion in light of the policies mentioned above and I encourage the use this article as a springboard for discussion.
Matthew Lynch is a higher education consultant and owner of Lynch Consulting Group, LLC. He currently resides in Richmond, Virginia.