BLOOMINGTON — The overriding principles in President Barack Obama’s plan to address college affordability were well received by officials at Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities, but concerns remain on how the plan will be implemented.
Obama said Thursday, “We’ve got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt.”
He laid out a plan that would establish a rating system to show which schools are offering the “best value,” creating competition between schools that could affect the amount of federal grants students receive. He also promoted expansion of a “pay-as-you-earn” program that caps student loan repayment costs.
IWU President Richard Wilson said, “I’m glad that higher education is back on the agenda at the federal level,” but added that “developing the rating system is going to be no small task.”
Wilson said, “The general proposition of challenging us to either increase graduation rates or students coming from low-income families is a reasonable challenge.”
Jonathan Rosenthal, ISU associate provost for undergraduate education, said the university “supports the big picture themes” of the plan.
“I don’t know anyone at a public university that’s not focused on cost containment and improving graduation rates,” Rosenthal said. “It’s all in how it’s implemented.”
The plan calls for the Education Department to develop a college ratings scorecard by the 2015 school year that would include such factors as graduation rates, access for middle- and low-income students, average cost, average loan debt and salaries of graduates.
By 2018, those ratings would be used to determine how much federal student aid an institution would receive.
Generally, about 25 percent of ISU students qualify for federal Pell grants, according to Jana Albrecht, ISU director of financial aid. In 2012-13, students received $18.9 million in Pell grants, she said.
The total for supplemental educational opportunity grants, another form of need-based federal aid, is about $535,000, she said.
In 2012-13, 19 percent of IWU students qualified for Pell or supplemental educational opportunity grants, totaling about $1.7 million, according to Scott Seibring, IWU director of financial aid.
Rosenthal said ISU would probably do well in the ratings because it already is strong in some of the measured areas.
“We have the second highest graduation rate in the state,” Rosenthal said. “We also do quite well in providing access to low-income students.”
But he questioned such measures as salaries of graduates.
“Those who produce a lot of teachers and social workers are not going to do the same as those who produce engineers,” Rosenthal said.
Both Wilson and Rosenthal noted that different schools have different missions and are not easily compared.
Wilson called graduation rates an “oversimplification” of a college’s value.
“You have institutions that work with students who arrive at different ability levels,” Wilson noted.