Editorial: Obama’s promises have small chance of becoming reality

In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama promised to make university education more available to Americans.

His plan included promises to freeze upcoming rises in federal student loan interest, double the number of work-study jobs available over the next five years, attempt to restrain tuition growth and provide “scorecards” for all degree-granting institutions.

Obama has some good ideas with this proposal. For one, he’s starting small. It would be tempting, in an election year, to promise the moon with little regard for the realities of the ideas.

In theory, the ideas put forth by the president are appealing. Doubling the number of work-study jobs would allow many more students to help pay for their education. This summer will see a significant increase of interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans unless Obama is able to freeze the rate. The rate would double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. For students who are required to take on more and more debt to finance their educations, stopping such a large increase in interest could keep things from becoming unmanageable.

Using federal aid as an incentive for schools to keep tuition down also seems sound. Obama’s promises to reform federal aid programs to allow schools which help students in need get a bigger slice of the federal pie. This a good way to influence tuition costs without having to spend more federal money.

The scorecards, which Obama said will be created by his administration, would give new students and their families unbiased information about schools before they make their decisions. As it stands, there is no standardized form by which higher education institutions are rated. If the federal government were able to create such a system, it would allow prospective students to make more informed choices.

Despite the good ideas, we remain skeptical of the president’s promises.

He is starting small, but in the nation’s current political climate even small steps come with great difficulty. With so many politicians calling for spending cutbacks, would these proposed changes even be possible?

In the best-case scenario, Obama’s proposed freeze of unsubsidized Stafford loans would only last a year. His proposal, as stated, is to delay the increase until 2013. While this would help some students, it seems to us like a hollow gesture. Unless he is able to extend the interest freeze, the proposed freeze wouldn’t have a long-lasting effect.

Doubling the amount of work-study jobs would logically require one of two things. Either the jobs currently available would have to be redistributed to a larger number of people, or new jobs would have to be created. If the current jobs were redistributed, all employees would have fewer hours available to them. It could create a situation in which more students are employed, but none of them are able to make enough money to pay for their education. If instead more jobs are created, it would mean the state of Illinois, which already doesn’t have enough money to pay all its bills, would need to put money into creating these jobs. Where would this money come from?

With the staggering amount of degree-granting institutions in the country (4409, according to the National Center for Education Statistics), it would be difficult for the federal government to create a detailed scorecard for each and every one without relying on the possibly biased information taken directly from the institutions. While it remains a good idea, the feasibility of it is in doubt.

Obama’s ideas seem good on paper, however it is difficult to accept that they ever be able to make it into law. They seem reasonable, but upon closer inspection, are of uncertain quality. We do not believe that these ideas are feasible, nor do we believe they should be brought into law.