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College Affordability Plan Making Waves

This week, United States President Barack Obama proposed a new plan designed to increase college affordability.

The plan announced the creation of a new college rating system and proposes tying federal financial aid to these rankings. However, linking the ratings with aid dollars requires consent from Congress to move forward.

“Colleges that keep their tuition down and are providing high quality education are the ones that are going to see their taxpayer money going up,” Obama said when he announced the plan in a speech at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York on Thursday.

The plan, expected to be implemented in 2015, is two-fold. The first is to encourage institutions by rewarding them for improving their ratings. The second is to make institutions eligible for further funding as they continue to increase their ratings, which can further benefit students financially.

The ratings include three main metrics; access, affordability and outcomes. Access metrics will look at the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants. Affordability will be determined by factors such as college tuition, loan debt and scholarships. The third metric, outcomes, will measure graduation and transfer rates as well as graduate earnings.

Aside from ensuring institutions do their part, Obama said that the plan also ties into student accountability.

“We need to make sure that if you’re getting financial aid, you’re doing your part to make progress toward a college degree,” Obama said. “If you take on debt and you don’t get that degree, you are not going to be able to pay off that debt.”

The plan, especially the notion of tying federal financial aid to the proposed metrics, has met with sharp criticism from House Republicans. John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, questioned the validity of the proposed rating system.

“I remain concerned that imposing an arbitrary college ranking system could curtail the very innovation we hope to encourage — and even lead to federal price controls,” he said.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, anticipated some pushback from industry leaders but concluded that institutions are aware of the changes that need to occur.

“We are in the midst of a dramatic transformation. It is still in the process of emerging,” Broad told The Washington Post. “We get the message that we have to do everything we can to simultaneously improve the quality of teaching and learning and reduce the costs.”