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Obama unveils plan to control college costs

From Alan Silverleib and Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 1:39 PM EST, Fri January 27, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama says he is "putting colleges on notice" that they can't keep raising tuition rates
  • Reform proposals include shifts in aid towards colleges that keep costs down
  • Friday's speech ends a three-day swing through five politically important states
  • On Thursday, Obama spoke in Las Vegas about increased federal investment in clean energy

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama unveiled a new college affordability plan Friday, proposing to further expand student financial aid while providing more assistance to schools that hold tuition down and cutting aid to those that do not.

The plan is part of a populist White House pitch to middle class families that promises to play an integral role in the Democrats' 2012 campaign.

Appearing before a raucous student crowd in Michigan -- a potentially critical swing state this year -- Obama outlined plans to boost total federal spending on Perkins loans from $1 billion to $8 billion. He also announced plans to push for the creation of a $1 billion competition encouraging states to contain public tuition rates, among other things.

"We want a country where everybody has a chance," Obama declared while visiting the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. America should be a "big, bold, generous country where everybody gets a fair shot."

Noting that student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, the president said Washington is "putting colleges on notice. You can't assume you'll just jack up tuition every year."

"We should push colleges to do better," he said. "We should hold them accountable if they don't."

Obama also proposed establishing a $55 million competition to spur new college strategies encouraging greater educational productivity and student outcomes. The president said he wants to create a "college scoreboard," giving families easy-to-read information about individual college costs and graduation rates, among other things.

Finally, the administration announced plans to push Congress to keep interest rates low for current student loan borrowers while doubling the number of work-study jobs over the next five years.

Obama warned Friday that rising tuition costs are now threatening to surpass the ability of government to help pay for them. Between 1999 and 2010, inflation adjusted prices for undergraduate tuition, room and board rose 37% at public schools and 25% at private colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department.

"We can't keep subsidizing (skyrocketing) tuition," he said. "Sooner or later we're going to run out of money."

College affordability has been a recurring theme for Obama. In 2010, Congress approved a bill that restructured the federal student loan program and redirected $61 billion towards post-secondary education spending, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Obama's 2009 stimulus plan also included a temporary $2,500 tax credit for higher education expenses, which the president has now proposed making permanent.

The trip to Michigan capped a three-day presidential tour that also took Obama to Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, and Arizona -- all states that are likely to be hotly contested in November.

On Thursday, Obama hit another key reelection theme -- clean energy. At the same time, he also discussed plans to sell off oil and gas leases on 38 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico seafloor as part of a sweeping new domestic energy push.

The leases could yield as much as 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the Interior Department estimates. The sale scheduled in June will be the second since the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 when nearly 5 million barrels of crude spewed into the Gulf.

Obama mentioned the planned lease sales in his remarks at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, which has a 1-megawatt solar array and last year test-piloted jets that run on advanced biofuels.

Republicans have been fiercely critical of Obama's energy stance, questioning investments in certain clean energy companies as well as the recent rejection of a permit to build a pipeline to transport oil from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama, however, insisted Thursday that his energy plan is an "all-out, all-in, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy."

Among other things, the president also promised more federal assistance for local governments to upgrade their automotive fleets while also pushing new tax incentives for cleaner corporate vehicles.

Obama said the administration is working to develop up to five highway natural gas corridors, and he announced a new competition to encourage the development of breakthroughs for natural gas vehicles.

CNN's Matt Smith contributed to this report.

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