Student debt incites debate

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President Barack Obama proposed incentive-based federal aid in which more affordable colleges receive more aid. UT President William Powers Jr. said the plan is sound, but kinks need to be worked out to ensure consideration for the expense of maintaining a top research university like UT.

Obama spoke about higher education reform in his State of the Union address on Jan. 24 and delved into more specific plans at the University of Michigan on Jan. 27.

The president requested an increased federal aid incentive plan for colleges to keep tuition rates at a reasonable level. Part of the proposed plan includes increasing campus-based aid, which would mainly expand the Perkins Loan Program, so colleges with better contained tuition rates would receive more federal funding.

“If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down,” Obama said. “We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don’t.”

Obama said graduates in 2010 who took out loans owed an average of $24,000 and is suggesting that Congress approve low interest rates for student loan borrowers.

“Student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt for the first time ever,” Obama said. “That’s inexcusable.”

Obama also made appeals to double the number of work-study jobs over the next five years and create a college scorecard of financial information about colleges to be readily available to families.

“We want to push more information out so consumers can make good choices, so you as consumers of higher education understand what it is that you’re getting,” Obama said.

Powers said Obama’s performance-based funding model is sound and includes approaches implemented at UT. He said the model’s success would depend on the implementation and the measurements used to determine how much funding to allocate to various colleges. Powers said the model should include multiple, carefully chosen measurements.

“If the only metric used is tuition for distributing resources, then across the nation the Perkins loans would go to community colleges,” Powers said.

Powers said the University responded to the $92 million in state cuts with a dramatically lower tuition proposal than most of the University’s peer institutions. Powers submitted a recommendation on Dec. 15 to increase tuition by the largest amount allowed by the UT System. He said he does not know how much of an increase the recommendation would have been without the System directives, but it would have been modest.

“We would have still been very concerned with cost,” Powers said.

Powers said it is important to keep in mind that it is not just about cost, but about the value of the education.

“We want as low of cost, as high of quality education,” Powers said.

Beverly Moreno, communications sciences and disorders senior, said the incentives program to give more federal aid to cheaper colleges sounds nice on paper, but it is not as simple as it is presented.

“I can’t say let’s punish our schools that hike up prices,” Moreno said. “I know there are a lot of details out there that result in higher tuition cost.”

Moreno said as a student with a work-study job, Obama’s focus on increasing work-study impressed her.

“I think that’s a great thing to be able to work and put yourself through college,” Moreno said.

She said anything the federal government can do to lessen the necessity of student loans is a good thing, especially given the dismal job market.

“Loans are necessary, but it’d be nice to have more of a guarantee that we’re going to be able to pay those back and not regret it,” Moreno said.