AMHERST, N.Y. — President Barack Obama wants the government to rate colleges on their affordability and cost effectiveness, with scores tied to how much federal aid students can receive. He said the scores -- ideally in place within two years -- will consider factors such as graduation rates, tuition, student loan debt and graduates' earning potential.
The ratings are part of a sweeping overhaul of the nation's higher education system that Obama says will give a "better bargain" to the middle class. He described the plan aimed at making college more affordable before a crowd of about 7,000 people at the University of Buffalo on Thursday morning.
"We can't price the middle class and everybody trying to get into the middle class out of a higher education," Obama said. He described keeping soaring tuition costs in check as an "economic imperative." Otherwise, he said, college costs will "stifle economic mobility for generations."
Obama said tuition to the nation's public four-year colleges and universities has increased 250 percent in the past three decades, while income has risen just 16 percent. The projected cost of higher education. he said, has become "a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt."
An average college student graduates from a four-year school with $26,000 in debt.
"The system's current trajectory is not sustainable," he said.
Obama visited the university on move-in day, as about 5,000 students descended on campus with mini-fridges and futons in tow. He described a three-part reform, beginning with the ratings.
"There are schools out there that have higher default rates than graduation rates," he said. "It's time to stop rewarding schools that are not producing results."
In addition, Obama described plans to spur competition among colleges through innovation, including programs for students to earn degrees more quickly, receive college credit for work done in high school and receive online credits.
Finally, he hinted at an improved framework to help college graduates manage their debts, suggesting that monthly loan payments be capped at 10 percent of post-graduation income.
"Government shouldn't view student loans as a way to make money, it should be to help students," he said. "Our national mission ought to be how to profit off of having the best educated workforce in the world."
University of Buffalo President Satish Tripathi said his university would rank well under Obama’s rating criteria, noting that tuition and student debt were below national averages for similar universities.
Tuition and fees for the fall 2012 semester were $7,989, while the average for national public research universities is $9,029, according to school officials.
"If you look at our graduation rates we're doing well, as well, so we really are doing what the president is trying to do," Tripathi said. "We are working in that direction."
Details for this story were reported by The Tonawanda (N.Y.) News.