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BUFFALO — President Barack Obama proposed extensive plan Thursday to rate colleges based on in part on affordability and tie those ratings to federal financial aid awards as part of a plan to reduce higher education costs.
The new system would be implemented by the 2015-16 academic year. Along with new ratings, the plan would evaluate colleges on average tuition, student-loan debt and graduation rates, according to details released by the White House. The rating system would allow for students attending highly rated schools to receive larger grants and more affordable student loans.
Additionally, the plan calls for basing a student’s loan payments on his/her ability to pay. The Obama administration says current students graduate college with an average of $26,000 in debt.
“We’re going to start rating colleges. What we want to do is rate them on who is offering the best value so students can get a better bang for their buck,” Obama said at the State University of New York at Buffalo where a capacity crowd packed the basketball arena hours before the President arrived. The student-heavy crowd at SUNY Buffalo stood through most of Obama’s address, flashing camera phones and applauding enthusiastically.
Obama announced the plan on a two-day bus tour through upstate New York and Pennsylvania. He was slated to speak at a Syracuse high school Thursday night and SUNY Binghamton on Friday.
Throughout the summer, the White House has been seeking to keep the president's public agenda centered on middle-class economic issues as a way to rally public support for his positions ahead of looming fiscal battles with congressional Republicans. And Obama, in an email to supporters this week, said a big part of middle-class security includes fundamentally rethinking how to pay for higher education.
Obama said Republicans in Congress are thinking: “’Maybe we should shut down the government if we can’t shut down ‘Obama care.’ That won’t grow the economy. That won’t create jobs.”
Instead, he said, Congress should focus on the practical problem of college affordability.
"Some form of higher education is the surest path to the middle class. But costs have become a barrier,” Obama said. He said that while college tuition rose 250 percent over the last three decades, the average family income grew just 16 percent.
The chairman of the state Republican Party called Obama’s proposal a “nice idea,” but “unworkable.”
“He is putting a spotlight on a major issue: college affordability,” said state GOP Chairman Ed Cox, a former member of the SUNY Board of Trustees. “But there’s no way … His vision with respect to government being able to rank institutions of higher education is unworkable.”
Under the Obama plan, by 2018 federal aid to college based in part on "value" as measured by new ratings system. It would steer federal-aid bonuses to colleges that graduate more students with Pell grants – which go to needy students.
"I think we should rate colleges based on opportunity: Are they helping students from all sorts of background?” he said.
He said his plan would ensure borrowers can afford their federal student loan debt by allowing them to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly income.
Obama left Buffalo and made two unannounced detours. He stopped at Magnolia's deli and cafe in Rochester where he greeted and posed for pictures with people eating at the sidewalk cafe.
Among them, Paul MacAuley, 66, of Rochester, was finishing his cheesecake and stood to shake Obama's hand and ask: “Where's Michelle?”
"Michelle couldn't come," the president responded. "She's got too many things going on, including a new dog."
Obama also stopped to pose for a picture with 11-year-old Rubi Platt, who is in town visiting from Orange County, Calif.
His departure was something of a parade down crowd-lined streets. Sidewalks and porches were jammed with onlookers. Some waved. Others snapped pictures. One man saluted.
Moving east, the motorcade exited next at Seneca Falls. There, too, people lined the streets as the president's motorcade rolled through and stopped outside the Women's Rights National Historical Park Visitor's Center.
With pool reports