The U.S. Department of Education is moving forward with the first steps of President Barack Obama’s plan to drive down the cost of a college education, a top-ranking official said Wednesday.
In a conference call with reporters, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he and the department look to provide more information on higher education institutions to students and their families while promoting innovation among universities across the country.
“We spend $150 billion on grants and loans every single year, and all of that, every single penny, is based upon input. None of it is based on outcome,” Duncan said. “And I think, quite candidly, that is part of the problem.”
In an address at a New York high school in August, Obama said the “soaring” cost of higher education has created a barrier and burden for too many American families.
Obama added despite reforms to the student loan system and an increase in resources available to families trying to finance college, more changes need to be made.
“The fact is college has never been more necessary, but it’s also never been more expensive,” Obama said.
However, U.S. Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in a speech Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, the federal government is to blame for the high cost of higher education.
Lee said he plans to introduce a bill to change the accreditation process for colleges and universities to allow for more students in non-traditional schooling tracks, such as individual classes or vocational training, to receive federal aid.
Duncan said federal grants and loans can be distributed more equitably by using a ranking system for schools, which will help families make more informed decisions about their students’ academic futures.
The need to provide information for many types of institutions and programs is another key element to the plan, Duncan said.
“For me, whether you want to join Wall Street or you want to join the Peace Corps, we just want you to have a chance to fulfill your dreams,” Duncan said. “We want to make sure young people, whatever their dreams may be, will have the skills when they graduate from college to go on and pursue that.”
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, released a bill earlier this month dubbed “Higher Ed, Lower Debt,” that would create a similar state authority to track similar data for Wisconsin residents.
The Department of Education hopes to issue the first attempt at a rating system next fall but intends to take time to work out any kinks and release subsequent, improved versions before its final release, projected in 2018, Duncan said.
“We’ve been digging around to get what average graduation rates are, those kinds of things, but we don’t have much on what data looks like ‘for a student like me, with my background,’” Duncan said. “I don’t think we’ve done enough in that area, and some creative apps can help get us there.”