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President Obama should put rising tuition blame on state legislatures
President Barack Obama is angry about soaring college tuition but his threat to withhold federal funding from higher-education institutions is misdirected ire.
Seattle Times Editorial
PRESIDENT Obama cast welcome prominence on the challenge of college affordability in his State of the Union speech, but the threat to withhold federal funding from institutions that don't rein in tuition is misdirected.
"Let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down," Obama said Tuesday.
Unfortunately, his remarks incorrectly conflate rising tuition with higher education's overhead. Here are the facts: Universities' costs are not increasing. State support is declining, rapidly, and the funding is being replaced by tuition.
His unease with tuition's growing role in higher-education budgets is one we share. Student tuition in Washington state makes up nearly 65 percent of college costs, with state funding covering the rest. That reverses the ratio between tuition and state support from 15 years ago, according to the Washington State Budget & Policy Center.
Too bad the president's well-intentioned bully pulpit wasn't directed toward state legislatures for failing to meet their commitment to higher education. Stanching rising tuition starts there.
Moreover, the only federal funding our state's higher-education institutions receive is financial aid and grants for students and funding for research. Pulling back in any of those areas sends a strong message, but not to the lawmakers who deserve it.
Obama also proposed reining in student-loan interest rates. Student-loan debt nationwide hit $1 trillion this year. But we need details about how the plan would be paid for.
He was on surer footing when the education spotlight turned to K-12. His proposal to require all children to attend school until age 18 would make it less easy for students to drop out.
His proposals for helping teachers become more effective and tying teacher earnings to performance lend political heft to similar efforts ongoing here. The president nails K-12 reform issues; on higher education, he has work to do.