President Obama is weighing in on a tried and true backyard-barbecue conversation that is sure to win points with the regular guy: He is complaining about the cost of college. He is dedicating the next week of his life to shaming Congress into halting student loan rates from doubling. If Congress doesn't act by June 30, interest rates on student loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. (This blog was devoted to that topic a few weeks ago.)
The student loan issue is just one part of the White House's push on higher education as Obama works to ramp up the college graduation rate and fill the skills gap that he says leaves 2 million high-skill, high-wage jobs unfilled. The Education Department also released last week a blueprint for reauthorizing career- and technical-education programs that target nontraditional learners like single parents or displaced homemakers.
This would be helpful to the growing population of adult learners, who typically are looking for nontraditional ways to get a degree. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 38 percent of college and graduate students are over the age of 25.
No one disagrees with the ideas, but coordination is lacking on an actual solution. Congress and the White House are out of sync. The blueprint won praise from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who helped negotiate the last two versions, but it has no actual home in Congress. However, both the House and Senate have drafted versions of the Workforce Investment Act that would rejigger job-training programs and help colleges tailor their curriculum to workforce needs. That legislation is stalled and the White House hasn't weighed in.
Why is it so easy to talk about college costs, tuition, and graduation rates, but so difficult to do anything? How will Obama's push this week on the student loan rates help his broader goals, if at all? How will the White House emphasis on higher education change college administrators' behavior, if at all? Is this all political? Or is this an appropriate use of the bully pulpit?