College-cost plan a start at least

Guest Editorials
When President Barack Obama spoke against the ever-escalating costs of a college education in July, it was music to the ears of students and parents mired in college debt.

The president offered no solutions, but his promise to unveil a plan to rein in college costs was a hopeful sign. The proposal Obama unveiled last week is far from perfect, but it’s a start. Whatever its shortcomings, at least he offered ideas to confront spiraling college costs, a discussion Washington generally has ignored.

The president proposes to make college education more affordable by favoring colleges that reduce their costs. Schools that do so while admitting more financially needy students, making more scholarships available, capping student loan payments at 10 percent of their monthly income and raising their graduation rates would receive increased federal student aid.

You might assume colleges and universities would furnish proof of their efforts through an application process for the increased
student aid. But Obama’s plan goes further.

In the president’s proposal, the government would create a rating system. Colleges and universities would be rated on all the requirements they must meet for federal student aid. Students and parents could compare the schools and determine the ones that offer the best value.

The ratings also are supposed to help reduce costs by encouraging
the schools to compete. Colleges and universities with the most affordable tuition and generous student aid provisions should see more enrollment.

Obama’s plan is imperfect. Coming up with a scoring system that is fair and takes the varied missions of the schools into consideration
will be difficult.

There also are no safeguards to prevent low-income students from settling for the cheapest college instead of the best. And as promising as this push to encourage colleges to become more affordable might be, still missing is a hard look at the reasons college costs keep rising.

Exactly when or if Congress would take up the president’s plan is anyone’s guess. Sequestration measures automatically have taken effect because Congress can’t agree on how to cut federal spending. There’s no telling when Obama’s proposal or other ideas to cut college costs would become priorities.

Give the president credit. College costs have been soaring for decades. At least the president is trying to reverse them.