Vice President Biden talks college affordability at FSU

Feb 7, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden is carrying the message of making college more affordable throughout Florida this week. Monday he stopped in Tallahassee at Florida State University to talk about the rising cost of tuition—an issue that’s been front and center in state politics recently. But Lynn Hatter reports when it comes to the issue of holding down costs in higher education—some say it shouldn’t come at the cost of financial aid to students who need it the most.

In his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama talked about making a college education affordable for students and their parents. And the message was reiterated by Vice President Joe Biden in speech to students at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

“Nationwide, tuition at public universities is up 300-percent in the last 20 years. And at some point, it becomes a bridge too far. At some point for students, even with the aid we’re able to get them, even with the help available, it becomes a bridge too far.”

 Those are words that FSU student Wayne Mitchell can identify with. He’s set to graduate in the Spring with about $25,000 worth of student loan debt.

“I graduate in April and I am really worried about what I’m going to do when I graduate and my student loans. That’s the most important problem.”

The rising cost of tuition has been an issue in the state of Florida, which has one of the lowest tuition rates in the nation. But through a series of state policies, the rates have been allowed to rise by 15-percent a year for the past few years as state support has decreased.

But colleges and universities are also being pressured to do more with less. In his State of the Union Address, the President announced a proposal that would penalize schools that didn’t do enough to keep their tuition rates low. Biden says whatever that proposal may look like, it wouldn’t affect Florida, with its already-low rates. Florida State University President Eric Barron says he was pleased to hear that.

A lot depends on how they write this. If they talk percentages, those institutions that are very cheap are going to be disadvantaged. If they talk dollar amount, institutions that are very efficient and effective like Florida State will be advantaged.”

That particular policy is being closely watched by many Florida education officials who say they’re pleased with what the Vice President had to say on the issue—but won’t be completely at ease until there’s something put down in writing that guarantees schools with low tuition rates, won’t face a federal penalty for not keeping tuition rates low.

The issue of college affordability is also an issue of access. Biden says under the Obama administration, more money has been put into the PELL Grant program—which provides a stipend of up to $5,550 a year to low income families to cover college expenses. But a new federal law signed in December would reduce the number of students eligible by 100,000. And Republican National Committee spokesman Matt Connelly says, the Vice President’s statements on the Pell Grant tuition are misleading.

“Vice President Biden today, directly contradicted the facts.”

Connelly points to a federal law signed by President Obama as part of a trillion-dollar spending plan that tightens eligibility requirements for low-income families and students for the Pell Grant Program.

 “He originally proposed to cut Pell Grants by 100-billion dollars. But he did actually end up cutting them by 11-billion dollars in 2011. So it[‘s unfortunate that Vice President Biden would talk to Florida Students today and say one thing, when it’s the exact opposite of what the President has been doing back in Washington D.C.”

Even as Vice President Biden leaves Florida’s Capital City, the issue of tuition and college affordability will remain front and center.  The Florida House of Representatives is on the verge of passing a budget proposal that includes an eight-percent tuition rate hike, and Governor Rick Scott is vowing to veto it.