A statement from Muriel Howard, president, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), following President Obama’s State of the Union Address

Education is the foundation for opportunity.  That was the message delivered by President Obama in his State of the Union address as he focused on economic recovery and prosperity for the middle class. AASCU strongly endorses this message.

The president called for making education more affordable for middle class families through an extension of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a $10,000 tax credit that can be used over the first four years of postsecondary education. 

He also proposed reducing the burden of payments on an individual borrower who completes college by strengthening the existing Income Based Repayment (IBR) program that allows eligible borrowers to put no more than 15 percent of their income toward paying off their student loans.  The president called for reducing this number to 10 percent.  The current program also allows borrowers loan debt to be forgiven if they are still making payments after 25 years. The president’s plan would reduce this to 20 years. 

At a time when difficult decisions must be made about federal spending, we applaud the president for increasing his financial commitment to education.  AASCU has learned that President Obama is proposing a 6 percent increase in education spending in fiscal year 2011. During a briefing with administration officials, AASCU also learned that the president wants to fund the Pell Grant program through mandatory spending.  By doing so, the Pell Grant program will operate much like veterans benefits or Social Security benefits.  In essence, if students are eligible for the money, they will receive the funds and will not have to worry about Congress providing annual funding. Both of these proposals show the president’s commitment to students and are excellent steps toward meeting his goal of increasing the number of college graduates in the next 10 years.

While AASCU is primarily focused on higher education issues, the association has a vested interest in the president’s proposed K-12 education reforms.  President Obama called for aggressive reform in elementary and secondary education modeled after the Race to the Top grant program, a national education reform competition that is currently underway.  The Race to the Top program calls for ensuring that highly effective teachers teach all students and that schools are managed by effective leaders.  This will require a re-examination of traditional teacher preparation methods. Members of AASCU award approximately 50 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in education (according to the latest data), and many of our institutions have undertaken exemplary and innovative work in teacher education. But we recognize there is room for improvement and our institutions can be key partners in the reform efforts required to achieve success. 

The president also noted his concern about college costs—a message not only for colleges and universities but also for governors and state legislators.   AASCU has begun to address this issue through a 2008 cost containment study in partnership with SunGard Higher Education.  That study resulted in six recommendations for public colleges and universities in realizing operational cost savings on campuses.

AASCU applauds the education agenda the president laid out in his address and we are eager to work with the administration and Congress to address those proposals that will increase student access to higher education which in turn will support our nation’s economic prosperity.