Paul Ryan’s Views On College Costs Look A Lot Like Obama’s

Career College Central Summary:

  • When politicians talk about college affordability, they divide into two rough groups. The first group worries about rising student debt and college costs. But they think public and private nonprofit colleges are doing pretty well at educating students and benefiting society; it's the prices (and the behavior of for-profit colleges) that are the problem. The solution is more generous Pell Grants or student loans, programs to help student debtors afford their debt, and more stringent requirements for states to fund public higher education institutions.
  • The second group sometimes supports those remedies, but they're not so sure they will solve the problem. They're concerned that higher education as a whole isn't doing enough to encourage social mobility by admitting and graduating low-income students. They'd like to see federal policy focus not just on helping students pay for college, but on making sure they're getting a quality education in return. And they're intrigued by the potential for new models of higher education (like online learning) to challenge the status quo.
  • Obama started his presidency in the first group — a group that includes many Congressional Democrats. Since 2011, though, he's moved into the second. He's gone from expanding the Pell Grant to telling colleges they were "on notice" for rising tuition costs and proposing new ways for the federal government to hold colleges accountable.
  • And some of Ryan's rhetoric suggests that the president now has company.
  • The federal government, Ryan wrote, "should measure success by outcomes, not inputs" — not whether students go to college, but what eventually happens to them. A few paragraphs later, he continues: "Post-secondary institutions and the federal government must work together to ensure both of their financial aid practices make college more affordable. Colleges should also have skin in the game, to further encourage their commitment to outcome-based learning."Where Ryan and Obama differ is on how specific they're willing to be about what "skin in the game" might look like or what outcomes they want to measure.
  • Ryan's higher education plan includes concrete proposals for Pell Grants and for capping loans for parents and graduate students. He also suggests specific ways that the federal government could ensure quality in two-year degrees and online programs.
  • Ryan is much more vague when it comes to bigger philosophical shifts that would affect all of higher education. That might be because he runs into ideological difficulties. Ryan's explanations of the problems with higher education draw heavily on research and policy analysis from the New America Foundation. The think tank, which has influenced Obama's higher education policy as well, proposed solutions in its reports too. But those solutions often call for a more muscular government role.

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