Higher Education Proposals in the President’s State of the Union Address

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In addition to the early education plans unveiled in his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a series of new education initiatives with a goal to better prepare students to enter the workforce.  His proposals aim to ensure that American high schools are providing students with necessary skills, make college tuition affordable, and make the value of various postsecondary options more transparent for students.

President Obama’s plan to revamp high schools focuses on building the skills that students will need to compete for jobs in a high-tech economy. Further details have not yet emerged about the proposal to create a challenge similar to Race to the Top. In his address, President Obama stated, “…we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math—the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.” He cited the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn—a collaboration among New York City schools, IBM, and the City University of New York that provides students with high-tech skills, a high school diploma, and an associate’s degree in six years—as a model for innovation in high school.

President Obama also emphasized the importance of value and affordability to help students search for postsecondary educational opportunities that meet their needs.  He specifically called on Congress “to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.” Andrew Gillen, research director at Education Sector, has examined the varying rates at which tuition costs have increased across different types of postsecondary institutions.

Last week, the Administration released an interactive “College Scorecard” that students and families can use to evaluate higher education options.  President Obama hopes that this tool will allow families to determine “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.” A prospective student can search the scorecard website to find typical costs, graduation rates, loan default rates, and median borrowing amounts for an institution. Though the tool puts important affordability data together in one place, many experts think the scorecard does not go far enough to give students the information they need. The website indicates that the U.S. Department of Education is working on a feature that will provide information about employment rates and salaries for an institution’s graduates, but it is unclear when this feature will be available.

These new proposals and tools could enhance the efforts of the increasing number of cities that are facilitating cross-sector partnerships with schools, colleges, workforce agencies, employers, and community organizations to help more students attend and complete college.  The National League of Cities released several resources in 2012 that city leaders can use to promote postsecondary success.