Obama to discuss cutting college costs

Dec. 5, 2011 at 4:15 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Lowering college costs is key to improving U.S. competitiveness, the White House said ahead of President Obama's meeting with college and university heads.

The 11:10 a.m. EST Monday White House meeting, also to be attended by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, will discuss how colleges and universities can remove barriers "to college access, affordability and success for students," the White House letter of invitation to the meeting said.

A four-year degree has become essential for Americans to compete in the global marketplace, and the administration wants colleges to lower "overall campus costs" so more Americans can afford at least a state university price tag to develop the skills and values they need to succeed in increasingly competitive markets, the invitation said.

State universities generally have lower tuition costs than private universities due to subsidies they receive from their states.

"The cost of college has nearly tripled over the past three decades, forcing students to take out more loans and rack up more debt in pursuit of the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in a 21st century economy," White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes wrote in the invitation, obtained by online publication Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The invited college and university heads are generally from state universities.

They include State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan, a higher education association representative told Inside Higher Ed.

They also include University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, University of Maryland at Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski, California State University at Long Beach President F. King Alexander and Ivy Tech Community College President Thomas Snyder of the Indiana community college system.

The presidents of three private, non-profit colleges were also invited -- Jared Cohon of Carnegie Mellon University, frequently cited for its Open Learning Initiative of free online courses; Larry Shinn of tuition-free Berea College; and Robert Mendenhall of online Western Governors University, Inside Higher Ed said.

In recent months, the Occupy Wall Street movement has intensified concern about student debt.

Duncan called on colleges Tuesday to "think more creatively and with much greater urgency" about combating rising tuition prices.

Two higher-education cost experts and two university presidents testified before a congressional subcommittee Wednesday on how institutions could change to lower college student costs.

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