Summoned to the White House

President Obama has invited the presidents of about 10 colleges and universities to a meeting at the White House on Monday to discuss affordability and productivity in higher education. While many White House events feature various presidents of colleges, a private meeting — called on short notice, with the president himself in attendance — is highly unusual.

The meeting, described as a roundtable discussion, will include Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, White House advisers, and a small group of college presidents and "thought leaders" in higher education, according to an invitation sent by the White House. A list of those invited has not been released.

Amid an increasing focus on student debt and college prices, the event seems to signal that the Obama administration will make the issue a focus going into the 2012 campaign. In a speech Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on colleges to address rising tuition prices “with much greater urgency." The House of Representatives held a subcommittee hearing Tuesday on rising costs, discussing a broad range of possible solutions.

The White House event seems to go beyond the issue of price alone: in the invitation, Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the discussion would focus on increasing access and success as well as how to make higher education  more affordable. The presidents will be asked for their perspectives on increasing productivity, access and attainment, as well as how to create change at colleges and universities.

But price is an overarching concern. “The cost of college has nearly tripled over the past three decades, forcing students to take out more loans and rack up more debt in pursuit of the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in a twenty-first century economy,” Barnes wrote in the invitation.

“Our Administration seeks to engage and explore constructive solutions designed to bring down overall campus costs in an effort to make college more affordable for everyone.”


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Election year politics or true reform…time will tell.