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Posted on Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:11 a.m.

Obama in Ann Arbor: President outlines plan to improve college affordability

By Kellie Woodhouse


President Barack Obama speaks today to a crowd of about 4,000 at the Al Glick Field House at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

AP Photo

(Related: Mega guide to the president's visit)

President Barack Obama stressed the importance of affordable higher education to the nation's recovering economy as he outlined a series of overhauls to federal-based college aid before a crowd of thousands of University of Michigan students Friday.

"Student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt for the first time ever. Think about that: It’s inexcusable," Obama said. "An economy built to last demands we keep doing everything we can to bring down the cost of college."

During a speech before roughly 4,000 at Al Glick Field House in Ann Arbor, Obama implored the 40 states that reduced their public university funding last year to stop the trend of disinvesting in higher education. He told the crowd at U-M that tuition had doubled since "most of you were born."

About two-thirds of college students go to public universities and in 2010 the average college student graduated with $24,000 in debt.


President Barack Obama gives a speech Friday at the Al Glick Field House at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Angela J. Cesere |

The president noted the importance of tuition assistance to his own family. His grandfather, a World War II vet, attended college on the G.I. Bill.

"Michelle and I can still remember how long it took us to pay back our student loans," he said.

"Your president and your first lady were in your shoes not that long ago. We didn’t come from wealthy families. The only reason that we were able to achieve what we were able to achieve was because we got a great education."

Overhauling the loan system, however, is not enough, Obama said, asserting that federal and state governments can't continue to subsidize skyrocketing tuition.

“You can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year,” Obama said, speaking to universities. “We should push colleges to do better, we should hold them accountable if they don’t.”

As he asserted the need to stem rising college costs, Obama also praised the Detroit auto industry for an ongoing economic recovery. He encouraged Detroit auto companies to invest more resources in developing fuel efficient cars.

"Jobs are coming back, 160,000 jobs," Obama said.

The president discussed the need to rebuild the nation's manufacturing industry and asserted Michigan's importance the country's continued economic recovery.

"Michigan is all about making stuff, if there's anybody in America that can teach us how to bring back manufacturing it is the great state of Michigan," he continued

The U.S. Department of Education announced a number of new college affordability initiatives today and Obama outlined several of them in his speech.

They include:

  • Award $10 billion in campus based aid per year. Such aid includes Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Perkins Loans, and work study. Calling the formula for such awards "antiquated," Obama wants to develop a new formula that prioritizes schools with stable and affordable tuition rates, instead of those that have been in the aid programs longest. The new formula would also incentivize "good value education," meaning high graduation rates and job placements, and the matriculation of low-income students. Obama also wants to double the number of subsidized work study jobs in the next five years.
  • Growing the amount of federal Stafford loans from $1 billion to $8 billion. The president also wants interest rates on Stafford loans to remain stable. The 3.4 percent rate is set to increase to 6.8 percent this summer, but the president plans to ask Congress to delay the increase for at least a year.
  • A $1 billion grant competition for states that would incentivize investing tax dollars in public universities. It would work similar to the K-12 Race for the Top program, which prompted states to approve new laws allowing for more charter schools.
  • A $55 million "First in the World" competition which would award individual colleges and education non-profits with money to boost productivity.
  • Requiring every accredited college to post a "scorecard" that outlines the true cost for attending, including tuition, room and board costs and amenity fees.
  • To begin collecting and archiving graduation and graduate employment rates from colleges.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Geoff Larcom

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin was among the special guests invited to President Barack Obama's address on higher education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Jan. 27. Following the address, President Martin issued this statement: "President Obama's emphasis on keeping higher education affordable is absolutely the right message at the right time, and mirrors the efforts of Eastern Michigan University. Over the last three years, we have been a national leader in tuition restraint, with an overall increase of only 2.5 percent -- including 2010 when we held tuition, room and board to a "0,0,0" increase. Students are paying only $20 a credit hour more than three years ago -- despite the significant reduction in state funding. At the same time, we have increased financial aid support by 68 percent in the last five years. Supporting Michigan students and helping them earn a degree is key to our state's economy. We are pleased to see this national focus on a critical issue for our nation's future."


Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 11:58 a.m.

Obamas student records are pertinent to see what kind of aid he got and how he qualified. Most candidates open their records when they run. He refused. I've heard people on both sides of the aisle call for tax returns, student records, medical records, etc. be opened by candidates, so don't give us false outrage when Obama is asked for the same. He referenced it in his speech, so he could be one with the common man. My guess is, he played some games with financial aid applications, using citizenship as it suited him to minimize his cost. I believe he is a US citizen, but he might have claimed he wasn't on those Finl aid aps. Why else would he be so frightened of releasing the records? It's either that, or he's not quite as "brilliant" as his handlers made him out to be.

Tom Jefferson

Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

The President's plan makes no sense to me. The problem with higher education is its rapidly rising cost which is reflected in rapidly rising tuition fees which are either paid by student loans, grants, state subsidies, or cash out of pocket. This is just like our health care problem--rapidly rising costs resulting in rapidly rising health premiums. We all should be wary of student loans programs. They will become the next economic crisis we will face. Like the good intentions behind the housing meltdown, the good intentions behind the student loan program will blow up in our face. The student loan program is flawed in that it, like health insurance premiums, helps hide the out-of-control rise in costs. It is also flawed in its liberal granting of loans to people who barely made it through high school whose time in college will vary from one to two semesters. These flaws will result in a massive accumulated debt that no one will be willing or able to repay. As every student at Michigan knows, the vast majority of their instruction comes from lowly paid assistants whose ability to teach is unproven and suspect. Rarely do students find themselves graced in the classroom by a real professor. This means that the real purpose of the university must not be that of educating people but rather that of think tank. It is the cost of maintaining this think tank, not educating students, that is draining the pocketbooks of the students and taxpayers.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:45 a.m.

Itinerary: Fly in, promise a bunch of ignorant lemmings what they want to hear so they vote for him again, fly out, have a great laugh on the plane while telling lemming jokes! I don't need no mamma, I got obama!!

Wally the Wolverine

Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 2:11 a.m.

The most immediate way to reduce the cost of a college education: dump the requirement of coursework that has nothing to do with the student's chosen major. A student's time on campus is artificially extended as much as 25% just so profs in little used departments can have jobs. This example of waste parallels that of the taxpayer money dumped down the Solyndra black hole by the Obama administration.

Wally the Wolverine

Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 11:28 p.m.

Sparty, are you suggesting every class you took in college was totally relevant to your major? C'mon man. I never suggested the POTUS set academic criteria anywhere. I was drawing a parallel of the waste at an academic institution and the waste of government spending. It appears one's over reliance on the mainstream media may have eroded their capacity for critical thinking.

Wally the Wolverine

Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 11:17 p.m.

JMA2Y, you just outlined the purpose of high school. Unless you're an education major (as an example), forcing people to spend time on this fluff is nothing but an unecessary coerced money grab. Will an engineer be any less capable of creating/interpreting a drawing because he didn't take coursework in the Department of Social Science or Political Science?


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

I think you're referring to courses not in a major but that are supposed to give a person a broad knowledge of the world and how things work: history, science, math, and language. They are all courses anyone takes as basics even when they are not studying those programs as their major. They are necessary for a person's jumping off point in understanding the rest of their major and in knowing more about the world and life outside of their little worlds.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:23 a.m.

This makes no sense. What 25% do you refer to, specifically? Details please without Fox News talking points. When has the President ever set the academic criteria for a degree program at a State University?


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 12:30 a.m.

College is still affordable. You have to look elsewhere than U of M of course. So is this going to be another entitlement program from the BO Administration? Our taxpayer backs are already broken BO.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 12:27 a.m.

I can honestly say that I would be impressed by this speech had I known it was Obama's words, thoughts and objectives. However, the Obama administration (as well as many others) are known to have speech writers who write speechs that will "relate" to the group that is being spoke's just a basic publicity stunt..."here I am...I relate to you"...blah blah blah


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:27 p.m.

Here is a way to lower tuition....U-M's 21 deans are earning more than $6.92 million in base pay this year, according to university figures released last month. That's up from $6.57 million last year. 21 deans, roughly 330,000 each. Google the database of UM salaries....there is plenty more to trim there also. I hope Rick cuts another 15% because there are many fully qualified people who are capable and willing to do these jobs for less than these "Leaders and Best". I don't buy the argument anymore that if we don't pay them, they'll leave. I worked full time and went to school part-time and took out student loans. Sure, i didn't get done in 4 years, but who says you have to? Didn't harm me one bit to learn the value of an education. Obama thinks the only solution is to throw more federal (my tax dollars) money at everything. We tax payers paid for this "campaign stop", because it was nothing more than that. The State of Michigan and the CIty of Ann Arbor should send his campaign a bill for the costs.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

While the top administrators or deans or board members might leave if their salaries are cut, and I don't care because other good people could come in at a lower salary, unfortunately that's not the route that UM has chosen to take anytime their funds are cut. Instead, they decrease regular employee pay, have employees pay more for benefits, cut jobs that are available, and then increase costs to students. And they push employees to cut costs on the job. I have yet to see the U actually cut their own internal costs enough not to affect employees and students.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

You can start with SPARK in A2 - no productivity, large salaries. And funded out of A2 education funds. Great, huh? Maybe you can ask to print the audits of SPARK. I dare you -- ask them (Laurel should have them) and see the reaction you get: NO, never.

Jacob Bodnar

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:11 p.m.

" Obama wants to develop a new formula that prioritizes schools with stable and affordable tuition rates, instead of those that have been in the aid programs longest." So essentially part of his plan is to reward schools that lower tuition costs with more funding, and essentially those that increase tuition would get less funding. Yet according to the article... "Obama implored the 40 states that reduced their public university funding last year to stop the trend of disinvesting in higher education. " Uh, that makes no sense. Can't cut funding to higher education, but we can base federal aid on tuition costs and lower funding for those schools that raise tuition, which is essentially what the states are doing now. I see no mention in his speech, and I could be missing it, of the real problem for universities, the legacy costs, fringe benefits, and far too many administrators. You reform those aspects of the university system and schools will be able to lower tuition, if schools could lower tuition, they'd be doing it, the problem isn't that they have no incentive to, they absolutely do - the problem is they can't financially do it because of retiree obligations and bloated administrative offices.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.

You've missed a very important point--Obama emphasized that states need to maintain and rebuild their commitment to funding public higher education, noting that rising tuition has taken up the slack caused by public disinvestment. Indeed, the over-arching theme was the shared responsibility for keeping education affordable--and that this included the responsibility of state government to help make sure the US continues to provide the best higher education in the world, including community/junior colleges.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:02 p.m.

If anyone wants to speak about affordability, why not speak at EMU which costs half of the amount for tuition as UM charges. Better still, choose Washtenaw Community College and talk about affordable schools and job programs where one can learn skills, a trade, get certificates, etc. to get a job. UM is a great school but elite-one must be a top high schooler to get in. And expensive as noted above. There must be a multi-prong approach by schools, states, and the federal government to solve the affordability issue. Schools that are state schools, or schools receiving federal aid or belonging to a federal loan program, should be forced to hold costs for a period of time-for example, four years-and then allowed to raise costs for the next four years by x%, say 2-3%. At the same time, the federal government not only gives states more money to fund loan/grant programs, but the federal government improves the loan process and rates at which students pay loans back. The states likewise improve funding for students. Universities will need to deal with a loss of revenue by not building new multi-million dollar buildings and may need to pay administrators less money. Or we could go the route of many foreign countries-while tuition is covered or at a low cost, admission to a university is based on competition-to get in, to stay in, and from which to graduate. That's Europe's idea of affordable but we'd consider it elitist. Except, if students can't afford to go to school here, we'll end up with only those attending who are able to pay cash and that would be just as elitist.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

"Student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt for the first time ever. Think about that." I spent the last minute thinking about that. What did I come up with? A good feeling. It means we are a society that has our priorities in the right place. Education over material goods is a good thing. Good debt over bad debt. Seems to me the people have it right and don't need fixing on this one. Supply and demand will be dictated by our values and priorities. It's working. While student debt isn't great, it is a reality that education is an investment that clearly pays off - that is what the President's story should have been. There, I thought about it. Actually thought about it.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

&quot;"You can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every single year," Obama said, speaking to universities. "We should push colleges to do better, we should hold them accountable if they don't."&quot; Here is a good place to start. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 8:40 p.m.

As someone that went to college in the 1970s, I fully understand what the President is saying. I went to the SUNY at Syracuse - and because I came from a poor, rural situation, and was smart enough to also have a state scholarship, my college bills were very little, and between work-study, grants, and scholarships, my only debt was about $750 after I graduated. However, tuition (in 1975) was $750/yr for freshman. Now, tuition there is $5270 per year. It's still a heck of a lot cheaper than going to U-M. My point is that at that time, we had National Direct Student Loans with a very minimal interest rate. There are things the federal government can do to help students with the expense of attending college. As for the previous comment about throwing meat to the sharks... I see the Republicans have been very good at that over the years, except when they reel one in, they club it and throw it back, whereupon the other sharks feed on it. It says more about the sharks than the guy in the boat.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 7:33 p.m.

Where does U Mich fall on the &quot;value&quot; chart? Not very good. Only 4% of students at UM have a family income equal or less than the state average of $47,000. The average family income at UM is $180,000. The Education Trust criticized UM for not having very many students on Pell grants (i.e. most families made too much money to qualify). Thus, there is very little in this proposal for UM students. We are an elite university for the rich and the foreign born rich. Mary Sue will be begging Governor Snyder to save her from her profligate spending again this spring.

Michael Christie

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

I see how it is. Obama wants to toss a bunch of federal funding to students to lower tuition, so the University doesn't have to spend their luxurious endowments. What a joke! And where will the money come from Obama? We don't have it!!!


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:51 p.m.

So I guess you're in favor of tossing a bunch of federal funding to big corporations and the wealthiest of the wealthy? Vote Republican if you say yes. It's really that simple.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 7:08 p.m.

Here we go again. Now it' affordable college education. Just like affordable health care. And the same solution, toss money at it, meaning raise taxes. That does not make it affordable. Did he mention reform of exhorbinant college executive salaries as a place for reform? When time are tough, meaning, tax revenues are not robust, there is competition between all programs funded with tax dollars, defense, transportation, foreign aid, education, environment, health/human services, agriculture, for what the dwindling pot contains. I suppose if you listen carefully you will hear the &quot;Not Them, Us,&quot; cries between the agencies.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 7:07 p.m.

pandamonium: I have no idea what you are trying to say? Someone who does please help me. Kai Petainen: In the past the University has made it clear that it does not support the political party of any politician who speaks on campus. President Obama wishes to change education in American and I believe that it was appropriate for the University to invite him and an honor that he accepted, especially so soon after his State of the Union address. ChelseaBob: You suspect the President of lying? Do you accept his birth certificate as valid? Harry: The money used to assist a student in purchasing an education is in the form of a loan that will be repaid. Many students try to work to help pay for their education but the few jobs available have low salaries. Remember that our future depends on the college education of our youth. 5c0++ H4d13y: ... and I hope that its tomorrow!

Kai Petainen

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 10:51 p.m.

agreed. i do think its quite appropriate for a university to invite a president/governor or even a political debate to occur on campus. i think of it as a sign of respect, and i'm in favor of that.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

Veracity, Obama frequently tells audiences how he is going to solve their problems using the government resources. When you speak to 100 groups, you have at least 100 problems to solve on the list. This may explain why 99% of those problems never get solved. He told people want they want to hear and nothing will change.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 7 p.m.

&quot;College&quot; and &quot;affordability&quot; don't belong in the same sentence. Decades of out of control tuition increases and college arms-races to build grander campuses have created the unsustainable student loan problem we have today. Certainly, reform of the federal student loan programs is needed. It seems a smart thing to do would be to incentivize students to pursue degrees that are in demand by employers by making it easier to get money or more favorable payback terms. A huge problem with the current system is we're creating far too many graduates with degrees that have low or almost no job demand. This causes far more defaults and does very little for the U.S. economy.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 6:40 p.m.

Why do they so frequently show President Obama in a Last-Supper-palms-up stance?


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

Honestly, all the attacks from the right make it feel like they are just angry that their last president was horrible. The left has a right to moderately celebrate this president. However, all Ann Arborites should celebrate a president coming to our town. As a middle-of-the-road, independent, I would have been excited and proud of our city if this had been John McCain, or potentially Romney/Gingrich. A great day for Ann Arbor to welcome the President of the United States.

5c0++ H4d13y

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

Someday we'll pass enough laws to create a utopia.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:46 p.m.

Right on -- let's start a war with Iran. I'm sure with a Republican President we'll head quickly in that direction. But don't worry, the oil will pay for the war, it will be over in 6 weeks, etc. Been there, done that. Do you still believe the neo-con lies?


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 9:49 p.m.

We just haven't racked up nearly enough debt yet. If we keep raising the debt ceiling we'll get there. The 1% will pay the debt off eventually.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

Why is it up to me and other tax payers to pay for ADULTS that CHOOSE to go to college. I am all for reducing tuition buy not with my tax dollars. Going to college is a choice that all adults are faced with. I decided to go to college. It was expensive. By working two sometimes three jobs and taking out loans I did it. So can other adults.

Adam Schubatis

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

I really like the last two proposals outlined in the article. If students have more information with which to make decisions about higher education, they will be able to make better decisions. I'd really like it if colleges also collected employment and salary information for each major. It would allow students to figure out if those student loans are really worth it! The fact of the matter is that some majors have better career prospects than others.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

Obama had student loans? If that is true, he should open his records and let people see that.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:14 a.m.

And that's your, or my, business how?


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:45 p.m.

Can we open yours too? How about some new lines instead of the usual Fox ones.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

Such a great event for all the students who attended. Love the spirit and energy they bring to our town. So very proud the President came for another visit. Go Blue!

Kai Petainen

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

Question: Sometimes, when a politician visits Ann Arbor then the University will remind us that it does not support one party over the other and how it doesn't endorse what the politician says. Sometimes, the University does not remind us of that. In a state that has Snyder (of one political party), and of Obama (of the other political party).... one has to wonder... which side does the University (in general) side with? To be more cynical -- which party does the University need to suck up to? That is... when Obama or Snyder speaks... does the University remind us that it doesn't endorse either one? Myself... although i might have political views, they are of my own -- and as I'm Canadian... I find the politics in the USA ... fascinating. I like to know the pros/cons of either party.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

Throwing meat to the sharks does not take much skill. In a world where everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. At least the sharks got fed today.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 2:25 a.m.

Townie and Granger, I am glad that you concede the point that Obama is telling people want they want to hear and then doing nothing. I made this assumption because both of you cited others for the same behavior. I guess, based on your response, that you expect this behavior to go on forever because it has gone on in the past. Thanks for your intelligent viewpoints.

Ron Granger

Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 1:26 a.m.

And yet... George Bush could not manage to string two sentences together... It makes me wonder how he graduated from Yale and Harvard, and who took the tests for him.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:43 p.m.

And your point was? Any facts or intelligent point of view? And what is happening in Florida? Feeding of morons?

David Cahill

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 4:45 p.m.

I loved the speech! President Obama hit the highlights of the State of Union speech, and added some more proposals. The crowd ate it up. Obama had no suit coat on, and we did not hear the traditional &quot;Hail to the Chief&quot;. It was well worth the wait in line. If he keeps this up, the Republicans will be in serious trouble in November.