5 Potential Flaws in Obama's College Affordability Plan

Higher education policy experts weigh in on what might make Obama's plan more effective.

Higher education policy experts weigh in on what might make President Obama's college affordability plan more effective.
By + More

Implementing measures that ensure colleges have "more skin in the game," such as having them pay the interest on loans a graduate is unable to pay, will "force the schools to align their costs of education with value, Cagney says."

Similarly, Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said in a statement that schools need to be incentivized to not only serve low-income students, but to serve them well, rather than graduating them "with degrees they cannot use and debts they cannot repay."

4. Repayment and forgiveness options target the wrong professions, and leave debts unpaid.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported on August 5 that more than half of outstanding student loan debt isn't being repaid, but that only 10 percent of borrowers are enrolled in an income-based repayment plan.

The federal "Pay As You Earn" plan caps borrowers' monthly payments at 10 percent of their income, and after 20 years any leftover debt is forgiven.

Andrew Kelly, director of the American Enterprise Institute's Center on Higher Education Reform, said Obama's plan to extend this repayment option to all borrowers was "troubling," and that the system "creates perverse incentives for students and institutions and leaves taxpayers footing the bill."

[ALSO: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Wants Student Loan Breaks for Public Workers]

"Expanding this program even further will only add to the college-cost problem," Kelly writes, because institutions could find loopholes to exploit the system and keep their tuitions high by encouraging students to enroll in these types of loan forgiveness programs.

Another debt repayment plan, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, wipes away remaining debt for public service employees (such as teachers, nonprofit health care workers, social workers and police officers) after only 10 years, if they make monthly payments on time.

But Cagney says that type of program is backward, and should also be targeted toward professions the government acknowledges there is a need for, such as engineers or computer scientists.

"Why would we incent someone to go into government service more than incent them to become a computer scientist, start a company and hire people?" Cagney says. "It just doesn't seem to make sense."

5. There are problems with defining college "quality" and "value."

In his speech announcing the college affordability plan, Obama frequently used the terms "quality" and "value." But Ebersole says the administration still needs to more clearly define what that means.

"Quality in whose eyes? Students' eyes? Faculty's eyes? Parents' eyes?" Ebersole says.

There is a need for more information about what could be considered valuable in a college, according to Beth Akers and Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution, as the current lack of information has "created a highly dysfunctional market for higher education."

[MORE: Is College Worth It? Grads Feel More Disengaged at Work]

"Consequently, colleges compete on measures that factor into popular rankings such as average SAT scores and student-faculty ratios rather than quality and price," Akers and Chingos write.

Because such college rankings (including those of U.S. News) and ratings have been around for several years and still meet with criticism, "to think the Department of Education is going to come up with a ranking system that is going to be welcomed by everybody, I think is naive," Ebersole says.

"I think the biggest problem overall is that we do not have a government system that deals all that well with complexity," Ebersole added. "Our search for simplistic answers is going to do somebody a disservice. I'm not sure who it will be, but I guarantee you somebody is going to be discriminated against, or disadvantaged as a result of our attempt to just simplify everything."

More News: 

  • Majority of Americans Oppose Affirmative Action in College Admissions
  • Report: Higher Education Creates 'White Racial Privilege'
  • High School Graduates Still Struggle With College Readiness