U-M Students React to Obama's College Affordability Plan

Obama says colleges must be held accountable for increased tuition.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Mark Bernstein is a candidate for U of M regent.

ANN ARBOR — Following a whirlwind three-day tour across the country, President Obama told students at the University of Michigan on Friday that he will work with Congress and local colleges to keep higher education costs down.

Addressing a packed house of 4,000 students and supporters at U-M's Al Glick Fieldhouse, Obama unveiled a Race to the Top initiative for colleges across the United States.

"I don’t want to be in a country where we only are looking at success for a small group of people. We want a country where everybody has a chance," Obama said.

Obama's plan proposes tying federal student aid to universities' tuition rates and the value they provide graduates.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the plan would affect three programs that provide institutions with student aid — Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Perkins Loans and Work Study.

Obama said he will propose to double the work-study program's $900 million budget and to increase the capacity to make more Perkins Loans, which doesn't cost the government money but provides more financial aid. In addition, he said Congress should vote to increase the loan program to $8 billion a year from about $1 billion.

Under the current formula, schools with the highest tuition get the most money, because the programs help fill the gap between what students can afford and what they are charged.

Obama's plan would level the playing field, allowing colleges to compete equally for federal dollars.

"We're telling the states, if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we'll help you do it," Obama said.

Jason Andrews of Brooklyn, NY., a student at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, said he was impressed with Obama's speech.

"He definitely has a good plan to keep college costs down," Andrews said.

U-M freshman Matthew Weiss of Chicago said he doesn't always agree with the president but he was thankful for the opportunity to attend the speech.

"It was cool to see him," Weiss said. "I like how he wants to help out students. Out of control college expenses are a concern for all of us and I'm glad to hear the president's proposal addresses that."

Molly Block, a freshman at U-M, said she knows firsthand how hard it is to pay tuition. Block, an out-of-state student from Illinois, said she pays roughly $20,000 more than students in state.

According to the New York Times, Obama's plan has some university officials overly concerned, however Mark Bernstein of Farmington Hills, a candidate for U-M regent, said he stands behind the president.

"The president is right when he says college education is an economic imperative, not a luxury. We need to do everything possible to make our universities more affordable for working class families," Bernstein said. "Nothing less than the future of our state depends on it."

While most attendees honed in on the president's speech, others said they were simply grateful for the opportunity to be at the event.

"It's always exciting to see a sitting president," said Anne Savage of Dexter. "I love the energy in the room. I'm all about capturing the audience's reaction while taking photos. I don't care what anyone says, Obama is still a rock star."

Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad was picked by the White House to meet with the president following his address to the U-M students.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I feel the people select the president and we need to stick with the commander and chief. Hopefully we're all working for the same cause – which is keeping our country safe from the ground up."

Herb Helzer January 31, 2012 at 04:52 PM
"[W]e are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our INFORMED opinions." -- Harlan Ellison (Emphasis mine.)
Herb Helzer January 31, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Wow. Just...wow.
Herb Helzer January 31, 2012 at 05:02 PM
You...didn't pay much attention when studying history, did you? What would it actually take to reach you? What information -- factual, sourced, supported by evidence -- would you need to pierce that shell of ignorance you've accreted around yourself? Do you even want to consider the POSSIBILITY that something might show your beliefs to be wrong, or are you comfortable in your current state?
Herb Helzer January 31, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Good to know, Milan. Always interesting to glimpse things happening elsewhere. The big difference between in-state and out-of-state (and out-of-country) tuitions is also present in Michigan, and anecdotally seems to have some impact on the ability of some qualified (as opposed to HIGHLY-qualified) Michiganders to attend a state university.
mike smith May 16, 2012 at 02:57 AM


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