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What Does President Obama's Re-Election Mean for College Education?

Jan 21, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Throughout his first term, President Obama has demonstrated a clear commitment to expanding student aid in order to expand college access for all. After the results of the 2012 election, Obama has a chance to increase his impact on higher education even more.

However, the President has also shown himself willing to make compromises that limit the impact of some of his most important initiatives for student aid. Here’s an overview of what his re-election may mean to students in the second term.

An increase in Pell Grants and other aid

President Obama has often expressed his support for federal financial aid programs—especially the Pell Grant program. During his previous administration, he expanded Pell Grant funding and eligibility—although he did have to make some compromises during the 2011 debt deal. It’s likely that in the next four years, President Obama will make it a priority at least to preserve funding on these programs—if not to raise them.

However, this may be difficult. Last term, President Obama found the funds to expand the Pell Grant program by eliminating the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), in which the government guaranteed federal student aid administered by private banks. This term, President Obama has less freedom to increase student aid funding—and it’s highly likely the Pell Grant program will face a shortfall.

See Also: Online College Degree Programs

A reduction in college costs

President Obama has also voiced support for finding a way to put the brakes on exponential tuition increases. During his election campaign, he expressed an ambitious goal—to reduce tuition growth by 50% within the next ten years. In order to do this, he has offered a plan to reward colleges that keep tuition costs low through campus-based financial aid. However, this initiative did not have a lot of success in Congress—and it’s likely it will require a fight to get it through.

Rewards for better outcomes

During President Obama’s first term, he enacted many pieces of regulation that bypassed the Congressional process—encouraging “program integrity” within schools. These regulations decreased financial aid funding to schools that did not meet specific outcome goals tied to the gainful employment of graduates. However, court challenges to the regulations based on questions surrounding how to accurately measure “gainful employment” have kept them from having a significant impact so far. 

Efforts to better inform students and families

The Obama Administration rolled out several tools aimed at improving students’ ability to compare traditional and accredited online colleges based on cost and make decisions about student loans—including the College Cost Comparison Worksheet, Shopping Sheet, and Scorecard. This is also likely to be a priority in the second term, and unlike some other initiatives, it is not a divisive political issue.

More compromises

No matter how good President Obama’s intentions, his agenda for higher education may be curtailed in his second term. He faced sharp opposition in his first term that have led to some unfortunate cuts—especially during the 2011 debt deal. And after the 2012 election, Congress could be even more difficult to deal with than before.

Although Democrats have kept their Senate majority, they still don’t have enough seats to overcome a filibuster. Meanwhile, Republicans increased their majority in the house. And the 2012 election saw the defeat of many moderate politicians in favor of those with more extreme views.

While it doesn’t seem likely, hopefully both Republicans and Democrats can come to enough of a consensus during Obama’s second term to pass legislation that has a demonstrable benefit to students and families. Facing high debt levels, high student loan default rates, rising college tuition, and a less-than-promising job outlook, college students need the help today more than ever.


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