In his State of the Union address Jan. 24, President Barack Obama spoke about his proposed reforms for keeping the cost of college low and attainable for all Americans, the specifics of which were organized in a blueprint released Jan. 27.  The plans include creating incentives such as the Race to the Top College Affordability and Completion program and a First in the World competition to promote low costs and quality, redoubling federal support and empowering families to make informed decisions about education.

In an on-the-record conference call with student journalists, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave detail to these proposals and emphasized the responsibility shared by the government, states, colleges and universities in working to keep college affordable.

“The goal is not just access, it’s all about attainment, completion,” Duncan said. “We want to challenge states to continue to invest in education, and we have to be a full and equal partner. When universities are doing really creative things, we want to not just recognize it, we want to incentivize it and learn from it.”

The incentivizing is used for states that, largely due to the recession, have cut into aid to state universities and community colleges. Schools who think resourcefully about how to cut costs and demonstrate long-term value will be backed up by federal dollars, Biden said. The administration also plans to double the number of work study programs currently in place, dedicate a significant amount of money to Pell grants, make an expansion of Perkins loans to serve an estimated 3 million students and make an effort to keep the interest on student loans at 3.4 percent as it prepares to double this summer.

The Obama administration’s interest in affordable education stems from their recognition of the necessity of a college education.

“It’s an overwhelming interest in this country that everybody who is able to get a college degree get one,” Biden said. “This is about the national interest. It’s about the basic bargain with the middle class. It’s about the American dream.”

Obama and Biden also recognize the importance of being able to compete internationally. Currently, the United States ranks 16th in the world in the percentage of the population that graduates from college. Obama and Biden’s goal is that, by the year 2020, the United States ranks No. 1.

"This is about excellence,” Biden said. “This is about promoting the best we can. And folks, I think we’re in the cusp of once again emerging into the most powerful economy in the world.  I think this is our century.  This is the best money we can spend.”