As President Barack Obama continues to tout new policies designed to keep college costs down, Kansas University’s provost said the university is undertaking its own measures.
The president outlined his proposals in his recent State of the Union speech and in other speeches and news accounts afterward.
“We are putting colleges on notice — you can’t keep — you can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year,” Obama said in a speech last week at the University of Michigan. “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.”
So far, details of specific proposals haven’t been distributed. The New York Times reported the president was calling for an increase of available funds for federal Perkins loans to $8 billion from the current $1 billion. Also, he wants to create a competition similar to a “Race to the Top” program for elementary and secondary education, where states that keep costs down are rewarded and another $55 million competition for individual colleges to increase their value and efficiency, the Times reported.
Another reported change would require colleges and universities to offer a “shopping sheet” with information about financial aid, and offering post-graduate earning and employment information.
If passed into law, the effect those proposals might have on a university like KU remains to be seen.
Tuition at KU continues to increase each year, but KU Provost Jeff Vitter said the university is working on ways to help people afford college.
The university is pursuing agreements with community colleges to work on better ways to help people transition from two-year schools (with much lower tuition costs) to KU. KU is working to improve its retention and graduation rates, Vitter said.
“If you graduate in four years, and on time, that saves money,” he said.
Vitter said KU’s tuition and fees — just more than $9,200 per year for an incoming Kansas freshman this year and around $22,500 for a nonresident freshman — were among the lowest of KU’s peers in the Association of American Universities.
“We are very much committed to keeping the KU education affordable,” Vitter said. “And if you look at what it provides, it’s an amazing bargain.”
It’s a challenging environment, too, he said, as other institutions are taking federal grant and loan dollars.
“We’ve had a lot of issues with for-profit institutions using these resources in ways that have not been productive,“ Vitter said. “That’s a real problem.”
Two KU social welfare professors are researching another potential way to alleviate the college affordability issue: publicly subsidized savings accounts for children.
William Elliott III and Deborah Adams recommend taking $3 billion from the Perkins program and using it to establish a program where public funds would match money contributed by families, charities and organizations for an individual child’s account.
“We have a student loan debt problem,” Elliott said, suggesting that other measures should supplement a student loan.
The savings account proposal would match Obama’s aims, too, Adams said.
“I don’t think these tools are divergent; I think they’re complementary,” she said.
Of course, she said, getting such a proposal through Congress — as with anything — could be a difficult fight.