From the Detroit Free Press
It is fitting that President Barack Obama has chosen our state to highlight new education proposals from his State of the Union speech earlier this week. From world-class research universities to nationally recognized liberal arts colleges, Michigan is home to some of America’s best higher education institutions. Unfortunately, the cost of attending our schools has increased 111% over the last 10 years, putting a college degree out of reach for many students.
While the cost of a college education has gone up, the recent recession has illustrated the increasing importance of a college degree in today’s economy. In December 2011, the unemployment rate for those 25 and over who never attended college was 9.9%, more than double the 4.1% unemployment rate for college graduates. We also know that the value of higher education pays off as individuals with a college degree can expect to earn more than twice as much as non-college graduates over their lifetimes.
The president’s blueprint for new education initiatives will help make college more affordable and ensure that every American has a fair shot at success. By doubling the number of work-study jobs, we will reward students who work their way through school. By permanently extending the American Opportunity Tax Credit, we will provide students with up to $10,000 for tuition over four years. We’ll also make sure that federal aid goes to the colleges and universities that make a commitment to keeping tuition down.
Finally, I am proud to be working closely with the administration to enact legislation that will prevent the interest rate on student loans from doubling this summer to help ensure that new graduates don’t see a spike in their student debt.
Beyond the president’s blueprint, I think we also need to do more for the 40% of students who attend class part-time. Colleges can help address this by adopting policies that allow for faster completion of degrees and better advising so that students are not taking more credits than necessary.
The process for transferring credits should be standardized to help students transition from community colleges to four-year institutions without sacrificing valuable credits, time and money. Dual enrollment programs that allow students to earn college credit during high school can also save students time and money and increase their graduation prospects.
To support these policies, the federal government can provide incentives and bonus payments through federal higher education funding for those who are able to significantly boost college graduation rates and reduce costs for part-time students.
As education is one of the most important factors in determining future income and social mobility, policies to help low-income families send children to college are critical. But producing more graduates doesn’t just help individuals, it is also important for our economic competitiveness. It is predicted that 63% of all jobs will require at least some college by 2018, and a shortfall of 300,000 college graduates is predicted.
Today, I am standing with President Obama at the University of Michigan because we know that by expanding access and lowering costs for college, we can lift families out of poverty and grow our way out of these tough economic times.
Gary Peters, a Democrat from Bloomfield Township, represents the 9th District in the U.S. House.