In the first State of the Union address of his second term, President Obama asked Congress to limit cuts to education and research, and called on lawmakers to link some federal student aid to college “affordability and value.”
The president had some tough words for colleges over rising tuition, warning that “taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize higher and higher and higher costs of higher education.” He went on to note, “Colleges must do their part to keep their costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.”
Obama urged Congress “to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.” He added that his administration would release on Wednesday “a new ‘College Scorecard’ that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criterion—where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”
The scorecard, which the president proposed last year, is an online tool designed to simplify students’ comparison of colleges, by providing basic information about colleges and universities, including their costs, completion rates, and average student-loan debt.
The State of the Union speech came just weeks before cuts in discretionary spending are scheduled to take effect through a process known as “sequestration.” Unless Congress acts before the March 1 deadline, spending on defense and non-defense programs will be cut by 5 percent across the board.
In recent weeks, some Congressional Republicans have suggested limiting the defense cuts in favor of cuts to other programs. The president dismissed that idea, saying, “We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.”
Obama also called for continued spending on research, much of which occurs at public and land-grant universities. “Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation,” he said. “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”
The president’s 2013 State of the Union speech focused less on higher education than 2012’s, in which he asked Congress to expand job-training programs at community colleges, extend the tuition tax credit, and double Federal Work-Study jobs. In his 2012 speech, Obama praised institutions that had taken steps to control rising tuition costs by redesigning courses and making better use of technology.
The Republican response to this year’s address came from Sen. Marco Rubio. Like Obama, the Florida senator proposed revising the federal student-aid system to allow more money for online programs and competency-based courses. “I believe in federal financial aid. I couldn’t have gone to college without it,” he said. “But it’s not just about spending more money on these programs; it’s also about strengthening and modernizing them.”
The senator, who owed more than $100,000 in student loans when he graduated from law school in the mid-1990s, also called for broadening disclosures around student debt, saying, “We must give students more information on the costs and benefits of the student loans they’re taking out.”
Click here to read a full transcript of the president’s 2013 State of the Union address.