Office of Planning and Budgeting

President Obama Releases “College Scorecard”

On Tuesday, February 12, President Obama discussed higher education briefly in his State of the Union Address. The President repeated a popular refrain, calling on colleges to restrain soaring tuition costs in light of the fact that Americans with some higher education are more likely to maintain steady employment and earn a comfortable income (or, as the President declared, be part of the middle class). As have many others when discussing this topic, the President juxtaposed college access and affordability against college costs without making the important connection to overall funding. As is clear at the University of Washington (UW) and many of its public peers, public funding (both state and federal) that traditionally provided the financial backbone for such institutions has become unstable, showing precipitous declines. It is in this context that tuition and other forms of auxiliary support have increased to maintain some semblance of consistent funding.

After having evaluated the scorecard,  the following two key points are worth noting and exploring.

  1. Obama’s suggested HEA reauthorization policy that would tie federal financial aid to “affordability” runs the risk of disenfranchising students studying in states that cannot or will not support higher education. It may also force institutions in those states to reduce the quality of their educational offerings in order to enable their students to maintain access to federal aid dollars.
  2. Although the UW looks relatively good in comparison to other institutions now, we cannot be comfortable with the comparison because we were advantaged by the particular time period for which data were available. The UW is vulnerable to faring poorly in these comparisons in the future as data from the past couple of years, in which we were forced to increase tuition at higher rates in order to compensate for dramatic reductions in state support, are used.

Please see a full Planning & Budgeting brief on line.

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