Obama's big plan to make college affordable

In a speech at the University of Michigan, President Obama calls for rewarding colleges that do best at keeping tuition under control and graduating students. Here, students cheer as Obama appears at the university on January 27, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama wrapped up his State of the Union Roadshow today in Michigan. Education was the policy prescription du jour. As he mentioned in his speech Tuesday night, the president wants to overhaul federal funding of higher education, and in the process make college more affordable for more people.

So he's going to go with the carrot and stick. More federal dollars for schools that do well at holding down tuition costs, less for those that don't. And more money for certain key programs, including one that helped get a lot of people through school: Work-study.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall-Genzer:  Work-study works like this: A student applies for financial aid. The very neediest students get something extra – a job, usually at minimum wage for about 10 hours a week.

For freshman Jessie Neumann, that means hitting the gym at George Washington University, in downtown D.C.  She re-racks weights and checks out equipment.

Jessie Neumann: I use the money from the gym as my spending money instead of using my savings account as my spending money. So I save more.

That means Neumann doesn’t have to rack up more student loans to pay for tuition, room and board, which is north of $50,000 a year at G.W.

Almost a million students got work study jobs last year, according to the American Council on Education. They earned an average of $1,500. President Obama wants to double the number of jobs.

Buthaina Shukri:  For some of our students, it’s absolutely vital for their ability to get through school.

That’s Buthaina Shukri. She works in GW’s career center, helping work-study students find jobs in the library or a lab. About three-quarters of the money for the program comes from the federal government. Schools pony up the rest.

Terry Hartle is a senior vice president at the American Council on Education. He says both political parties want to bring down the cost of college.

Terry Hartle:  And one can imagine that both parties might like to do something about it in an election year.

President Obama will need congressional approval for his proposed reforms. And, with the poisonous atmosphere on Capitol Hill these days, Hartle doesn’t expect much action this year.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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