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August 22, 2013

Obama seeks 'better bargain' for college

AMHERST, N.Y. — President Barack Obama wants the government to rate colleges on their affordability and cost effectiveness, with scores tied to how much federal aid students can receive. He said the scores -- ideally in place within two years -- will consider factors such as graduation rates, tuition, student loan debt and graduates' earning potential.

The ratings are part of a sweeping overhaul of the nation's higher education system that Obama says will give a "better bargain" to the middle class. He described the plan aimed at making college more affordable before a crowd of about 7,000 people at the University of Buffalo on Thursday morning.

"We can't price the middle class and everybody trying to get into the middle class out of a higher education," Obama said. He described keeping soaring tuition costs in check as an "economic imperative." Otherwise, he said, college costs will "stifle economic mobility for generations."

Obama said tuition to the nation's public four-year colleges and universities has increased 250 percent in the past three decades, while income has risen just 16 percent. The projected cost of higher education. he said, has become "a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt."

An average college student graduates from a four-year school with $26,000 in debt.

"The system's current trajectory is not sustainable," he said.

Obama visited the university on move-in day, as about 5,000 students descended on campus with mini-fridges and futons in tow. He described a three-part reform, beginning with the ratings.

"There are schools out there that have higher default rates than graduation rates," he said. "It's time to stop rewarding schools that are not producing results." 

In addition, Obama described plans to spur competition among colleges through innovation, including programs for students to earn degrees more quickly, receive college credit for work done in high school and receive online credits. 

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