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Experts give 19 ways towards college affordability during live chat

While President Barack Obama and Michele Obama hosted a high-profile White House summit of college and university presidents, and leaders from nonprofits, state governments and the private sector, a live chat among experts open to public comments was held as part of a push to find ways to make higher
education more affordable. Both events were held yesterday according to Yahoo News.

President Barack Obama (L) speaks about college opportunities while college student Troy Simon (C) and first lady Michelle Obama (R) sit nearby during an event on college opportunities in the Eisenhower Executive Office building, on January 16, 2014 in Wa
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Some great ideas were proposed for the following issues:

  • Dealing with higher price tags on college education
  • Calculating the worth of a diploma
  • Finding ways to reduce costs and make repaying student loans easier
  • Considering action required from Washington
  • Figuring out how colleges can do it alone

Expert participants included Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy, John Malcolm McCardell, Jr., the Vice Chancellor of The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and Mark Kantrowitz, a long time college cost/affordability expert who is now Senior VP and Publisher of

Here are some of the proposed actions from the expert live chat participants:

Mark Kantrowitz

Mark Kantrowitz’s position is, “If federal student aid were to end, at least half of all colleges would shut down. But that doesn't mean that the federal aid drives tuition inflation. It enables students to afford a college education despite the tuition inflation.”

  1. Eliminate the PLUS loan and replace it with a more rational set of loan limits for the Stafford loan. The loan limits could be based on ballpark estimates of ability to repay debt (say, an aggregate limit based on the expected starting salary), as opposed to how much the college chooses to charge.
  2. Improve guidance counseling by providing guidance counselors with more effective tools they can use to help their students.
  3. Drastically simplify the FAFSA form so it fits on the back of a postcard.
  4. Use the income-based repayment formula to calculate eligibility -- after all, if that formula works for testing affordability after graduation, why not use it for grant eligibility before graduation? Or use a phaseout approach, where a family gets a full Pell Grant at 150% of the poverty line, dropping to zero at 250% of the poverty line.
  5. Double or triple the average Pell Grant for eligible low income students because increases are not keeping up with tuition inflation or the consumer inflation rate. It would also have a big impact on access and completion, adding several hundred thousand more Bachelor's degree recipients per year. (Ultimately, this would save the federal government money, since Bachelor's degree recipients pay more than twice as much federal income tax as high school graduates.)
  6. Elite colleges should adopt admission preferences for low-income students, since need-blind admissions does not represent a level playing field. The low-income student cannot afford to pay $1,000 for a SAT prep class and doesn't have the time to letter in a sport because he or she is working a part-time job to put food on the table.

John McCardell

John McCardell believes college is, “Absolutely worth it -- and for everyone. Within 5 years 63% of American jobs will require some form of postsecondary education. That's 22 million new workers. The unemployment rate for people with at least a bachelor's degree is 3.7%. And the earning power over a lifetime is significant. And these are simply the economic reasons. A more highly educated public means a higher degree of civic responsibility. Yes, the investment in a college education IS worth it.”

  1. College is an investment that, unlike a loan for a $30,000 (average debt load of a graduate of a four-year institution) automobile, is not likely to depreciate and will never need to be replaced.
  2. National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) offers Ucan, which is a very useful "accountability" tool in considering colleges.
  3. Higher education is a labor-intensive business and salaries and benefits do drive, to a significant degree, college costs. However, the area that has grown the most in recent years is student services. Family expectations of these services drive demand, and colleges have to decide how much of that demand -- for nutritionists, for example, or counselors, or outdoor programs -- to meet.
  4. Too many schools are engaged in the "high tuition/high discount" game, which is unsustainable, especially as discount rates pass 50% and the number of full pays continues to drop.
  5. Online courses have definitely broadened the definition of "student" and many of these course are of high quality and are rigorous. These complement, and will not replace, the face-to-face engagement in the classroom. The marketplace will determine whether on-line course should receive academic credit toward a degree, most effectively.

Roberto Rodriguez, The White House

Roberto Rodriguez stated, "The whole premise of our convening today at the White House -- and the commitments made by over 100 colleges and universities and 40 organizations -- is to support our young people on a path toward a college degree. As John mentions, college attainment is an economic imperative in today's global marketplace. As President Obama points out, it is also the surest rung on the ladder of opportunity and upward mobility.”

  1. We need a comprehensive strategy. The President has challenged us to develop a more transparent system for rating colleges that will drive value and help families focus on outcomes.
  2. We need more high school counselors and other advisors to reach our young people while still in high school and prepare them for success.
  3. We should level the playing field in SAT/ACT prep and other college advising -- as Mayor Casrto is doing to provide tens of thousands of students free financial aid and college-going help through his Cafe College approach.
  4. We need more young people applying to more than one college or university, to truly weigh their options on college opportunity and affordability, and filling out their FAFSAs.
  5. We've also published the college scorecard and financial aid shopping sheet to give students and parents better information about their college choices, also without Congress.
  6. The President is calling on college presidents and other leaders as partners to commit to undertaking partnerships and practices on their own campuses that will help more disadvantaged students enter college and succeed once they get there.
  7. Colleges can commit by increasing the share of Pell Grant students on their campuses; by expanding programs that help needy students succeed in their first two years in college; and by offering summer bridge programs as a seamless path for high school students to enter college.
  8. Commitments made at today's event range from offering free fee waivers for college applications, to efforts to recruit more low-income students and to scale effective programs and strategies - like Posse and the National College Advising Corps - to prepare students to enter and college and succeed in their early years. A complete list can be found here.

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