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Editorial: Here’s one way to make college affordable

In communities all across the country last week, President Obama’s speech on college affordability no doubt left university administrators feeling squeamish and defensive.

Not in Manchester.

That’s because the president singled out Southern New Hampshire University as a place that’s actually doing things right. And as national leaders in higher education, politics and philanthropy work to rein in the cost of higher education, SNHU is, indeed, worth a close look.

Obama said he wanted to create a broad new government rating system that would judge colleges on their affordability. Such a system would help students and parents select schools and, ultimately, it could even be used to allocate federal financial aid.

“Colleges are not going to just be able to keep on increasing tuition year after year and passing it on to students,” the president said. “We can’t price the middle class and everybody working to get into the middle class out of college.”

This is of particular concern in New Hampshire, where college students graduate with some of the highest debt loads in the country, and tuition at the state university is unusually high.

Some push-back was inevitable. Some higher education experts and some Republican politicians said they were uncomfortable with the federal government imposing new standards on the private sector. Some university officials argued that tuition costs are affected in part by factors out of their control: state government funding decisions, for instance, and the rising cost of health care. And there’s little doubt that members of Congress would protest a system that would lead to cuts to financial aid to schools in their own districts.

Nonetheless, the speech was an important start to an overdue national debate and underscored two main points: The high cost of college tuition is jeopardizing the future of individual students and, in turn, the economy. And colleges seem unable to control this phenomenon on their own.

How can colleges make themselves more affordable? Obama had particular praise for SNHU’s College for America. That’s a program in which students get credit for how well they master the material, rather than making sure that they spend a certain number of hours in class. Students who work quickly can finish faster –which means they pay less.

“I think the main reason our degree program is so popular is that it represents – really for the first time – higher ed fully focused on learning and unconcerned with time. It makes a huge difference to working students and employers,’’ noted Paul LeBlanc, founder of College for America and the president of SNHU, where it is housed.

SNHU has also experimented with a “Degree in Three” program, which allows students to earn a business degree in three years, without attending summer school, and saving nearly 25 percent in tuition.

And the university’s “College Unbound” program emphasizes project-based, real-world learning instead of classroom time. It’s aimed at making students “career-ready” when they graduate.

SNHU’s programs aren’t for every student and surely not ideal for every discipline. But when the cost of traditional education methods are out of reach for many families and the prospect of decent employment is slim without a college degree, they must be part of the mix.

It’s encouraging that Obama wants to make access to college an administration priority. As he said last week, “We’re going to have to do things differently.”

Legacy Comments6

Apply that same theory to public schools. They cannot keep increasing the tax payer burden to fund their constant rising costs and expect folks not to want vouchers, home schooling etc. These schools are creating an expensive system where at some point private will be cheaper and college students will become more savy at finding state Universities in other states that are more reasonable tuition wise. By the way, is it a lot to ask parents of college bound students to actually do the work to make sure their kid applies to affordable good schools? I did with my kids. Another area it seems where govt believes the parents need help because they cannot do it for themselves.

State Colleges like any State funded dept are miss-managed on all levels. We heard about UNH suffering because of budget cuts, yet they managed to have the highest fund raising years when the budget was cut. In other words, as long as the taxpayers were willing to fund them, they had no need to focus on fund raising till the revenue was cut off. The focus should be on where the money is spent. That does not seem to happen, instead we get the opposite, more spending, more new buildings, less time teaching with more pay, and a host of other waste. The taxpayer foots the bill and the students pay more. At some point it will be cheaper to attend private schools or go to other states that manage their state colleges better and keep costs down. I know of a few folks who's kids actually find it cheaper to go to a state university in another state than to attend the university in the state where they are residents. Follow the spending, and you will see where the waste is.

Those rating systems are already in place in the private sector. Leave it to democrats to make a bureaucracy where none is needed. For instance.... "A new study finds that students at 514 colleges and universities are more likely to default on their student loans than graduate" .... and.... NH only has 2 Colleges in the top 300 for ROI

Sail being the modest person he is left out some details: "“The truth is, what matters most is not so much where you went to college, but rather what you did with your time in college,” said Tom Horgan, president and CEO of the New Hampshire College and University Council. “It matters what kind of person you are, how persistent you are, how hard you work, how creative you are, and how you present yourself.” I just love how a President who refuses to show us his college grades has the audacity to review the quality of education for us! But, three and out at SNHU, really they must be getting some high SAT score students along the Merrimack. get your degree in three is kind of like President Obama's, "fill your tires with air" comment on using less oil

A wise professor once said "when the student is ready to learn - the right teacher always appears" - obviously does not apply to public school teachers

“Colleges are not going to just be able to keep on increasing tuition year after year and passing it on to students,” the president said. Replace "Colleges" with "The federal Government" and "Tuition" with "taxes" and "students" with "taxpayers".

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