LSU chief: Obama plan could help state (Video)

Associated Press photo by KEITH SRAKOCIC -- President Barack Obama speaks at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y., where he began his two-day bus tour to speak about college financial aid.
Associated Press photo by KEITH SRAKOCIC -- President Barack Obama speaks at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y., where he began his two-day bus tour to speak about college financial aid.

President Barack Obama’s plan to create a new ranking system that would measure colleges and universities on value, and then reward higher ranked institutions with a larger share of federal money, could be a boon to a state like Louisiana where tuition rates are among some of the lowest in the nation.

LSU’s new leader, F. King Alexander, said he was especially optimistic about what Obama’s plan would mean for the university.

Obama went to the University of Buffalo on Thursday to announce the proposal he said would hold schools more accountable and fight the growing cost of attending college. His plan would create a new college ranking system by 2015 that would measure schools on tuition, student debt, graduation rates and the percentage of low-income students enrolled.

If approved by Congress, colleges would be compared to their peer institutions and students attending highly ranked schools would get cheaper loans and larger federal grants. The proposals mirror the message Obama delivered in his 2012 State of the Union address, where he spoke about ever rising tuition costs and warned colleges that they will be held accountable for those costs in the future.

On Thursday, Obama said it is unfair that too many students have the option of graduating from college with huge student debts or deciding against going to college at all because of the overwhelming costs.

“Bottom line is higher education cannot be a luxury,” Obama said. “It’s an economic imperative. Every family in America should be able to afford to get it.”

He added that taxpayers cannot keep subsidizing schools that aren’t producing good results.

Five weeks into his tenure leading LSU, Alexander said he is personally willing to lobby to make Obama’s plan a reality.

“We need to make schools demonstrate their value,” Alexander said. If we do that, “LSU is going to come out on top. We’re well below the average on student indebtedness, we’re well below the average on tuition and student loan default.”

Alexander added that research shows LSU graduates have higher starting salaries and greater mid-career earnings than graduates of similar schools.

“It’s great to have scorecards, but there really hasn’t been any teeth behind them. This puts incentives behind the concept,” Alexander said. “The federal government has every right to determine where the federal money is going to go.”

“Right now a school that starts up in a garage and gets accredited, their students get the same Pell grants as a student at LSU,” Alexander added. “Why should they get money if they have a high-degree of failure?”

Late Thursday evening, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s press office released a prepared statement from the governor touting Louisiana laws that provide incentives for schools to improve academic outcomes while remaining affordable.

Jindal’s statement, however, questioned Obama’s “one-size-fits-all approach.”

“The country certainly needs to work on making higher education more affordable for students and families and to reduce student debt, and we haven’t seen the details yet, but we would be concerned about a one-size-fits-all approach from Washington. We look forward to continuing our work with higher education leaders across Louisiana to ensure that our schools continue succeeding and attracting students from around the globe,” Jindal said.

State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell agreed with the idea that Louisiana colleges and universities stand to benefit should the president’s plan win Congressional approval.

Louisiana has made a strong effort to emphasize performance and tie funding to outcomes in recent years, he said, particularly through the La GRAD Act.

The 2010 law gives colleges authority to increase tuition by up to 10 percent a year, if they meet certain performance goals.

Additionally, the state’s performance-based funding formula ties 15 percent of overall state funding for each college on meeting the GRAD Act goals.

Purcell said it’s too early to shake out how much of Obama’s plan will become law, if any, but he said Louisiana will be in a good position if it does.