President Obama is calling for "shared responsibility" between the federal government and the nation's universities to help rein in tuition costs. (Vice President Joe Biden is carrying the torch for this cause this week with Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter at Florida State University. Go Seminoles!)
The trouble is, Obama has few carrots or sticks that he can put before college campuses to get them to comply with his requests. For example, he is proposing a $1 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program to states that revamp college financing and try to get kids to graduate on time. That's not a lot of money for the types of reforms that will surely be demanded of the grant winners.
Obama also wants to reward colleges that keep their tuitions in check and have higher completion rates by shifting more federal aid to schools that are "acting responsibly." It's not entirely clear how that will work or what it means to show good value for tuition costs. But the sentiment speaks to the administration's frustration with the college-degree bottleneck that stands in the way of the skilled workforce to which it aspires.
How can the administration push colleges to act responsibly? What does "acting responsibly" mean? What does it mean to "show poor value" in setting tuition rates? How much of a shift in federal aid would actually change a university's decision-making process? Are there other incentives that would align college budgeting with the White House's goals?