College presidents wary of Obama cost-control plan

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The bulk of the more than $140 billion in federal grants and loans goes directly to students and would not be affected.

The average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges this school year rose 8.3 percent and with room and board now exceed $17,000 a year, according to the College Board.

Rising tuition costs have been attributed to a variety of factors, among them a decline in state dollars and competition for the best facilities and professors. Critics say some higher education institutions are attempting to wait out the economic downturn and have been too reluctant to make large-scale changes that would cut costs such as offering three-year degree programs.

The federal government’s leverage to take on the rising cost of college is limited because higher education is decentralized, with most student aid following the student.

The response to Obama’s plan wasn’t all negative. Many university presidents said they welcome a conversation about making college more affordable and efficient.

In Missouri, where Gov. Jay Nixon has proposed a 12.5 percent funding cut for higher education in the coming fiscal year, Obama’s proposal could put even more pressure on public colleges and universities to limit tuition increases. By state law, schools must limit such increases to the annual inflation rate unless they receive permission for larger ones. Nixon has warned schools that he doesn’t want to see a tuition increase of more than 3 percent, the latest Consumer Price Index increase.

“The president’s message isn’t inconsistent with the agenda that we’ve been pursuing here in Missouri,” said Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Higher Education. “It’s good to see him put the focus on the same things.”

Obama also wants to create a “Race to the Top” competition in higher education similar to the one his administration used on lower grades. He wants to encourage states to make better use of higher education dollars in exchange for $1 billion in prize money.

Obama is also pushing for more tools to help students determine which colleges and universities have the best value.

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Online:

White House: http://tinyurl.com/75yrqyh

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Associated Press writers Ben Feller and Julie Pace in Washington, Jim Kuhnhenn and David Runk in Ann Arbor, Mich., David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., Alan Zagier in Columbia, Mo., Alex Dominguez in Baltimore, Dorie Turner in Atlanta, and Donna Gordon Blankinship in Seattle contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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