Justin Peligri: Obama’s address holds schools accountable

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Justin Peligri

Education was a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday.

He unveiled his plan to create a “College Scorecard” to help prospective college students educate themselves about the financial side of college.

The proposal was officially released Wednesday – and it is essential that members on both sides of the aisle act to make this idea a reality.

“Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do,” Obama said in his speech.

Students at GW are no strangers to high tuition costs. The tuition for this year’s incoming class will be $47,343 – and that’s excluding room and board. And while this 3.3 percent increase from last year’s tuition is not quite as steep of an incline as that of other private universities, this school is still notorious for its hefty price tag.

To educate students on how much they will have to pay before they matriculate, the University has established a cost calculator – pursuant to a federal requirement from 2009. The purpose of the calculator is to inform students about how much their tuition will cost after projecting their financial aid package.

But students are still left with a lot of unanswered questions. There’s more to the story of college affordability than just tuition costs. Obama’s new College Scorecard is much more expansive than the University’s existing system, and this transparency will benefit students far more.

In addition to listing tuition costs, Obama’s proposed scorecard takes a more comprehensive look at details like graduation rates, average college debt, likelihood of graduation and earnings potential after college to help students make informed decisions about where to get the best deal.

Paying for college is quite a predicament, especially at GW, where in 2011, the average student debt upon graduation was $32,714, and 45 percent of students graduated with debt, according to the Project on Student Debt. And as college costs increase in the future, so will the number of students who struggle to afford college.

Congress would be mistaken to ignore the president’s call to hold universities accountable.

Associate Vice President for Financial Assistance Dan Small has voiced his hesitation to adopt a shopping sheet already provided by the federal government to help prospective students compare college costs. He said looking at numbers out of context oversimplifies the situation.

Students should have as much access to financial details as possible.

Granted, independent organizations already offer lists and information about colleges that offer the best value. But a scorecard compiled by the federal government would be key in standardizing this information. It would also ensure that details are as accurate as possible – instead of being driven by the corporate interests of a private institution.

In the segment of the speech that focused on education, Obama didn’t just talk about colleges and universities. He also proposed sweeping reform to American preschools, calling for state governments to work to ensure that all students, starting as early as three years old, receive a quality preschool education.

Expanding the opportunity to attend preschool to more students will be a costly endeavor – albeit a worthwhile one. But creating a college scorecard won’t drain the national budget like other existing programs such as defense spending and health care.

It’s the most logical step to move our higher education system forward.

Justin Peligri, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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