A frustrated Obama is still hoping to enact change

With Dream Act faltering, president links federal aid to 'responsible' fees. Sarah Cunnane writes

February 2, 2012



Credit: Getty
Economic imperative: 'higher education is not a luxury', Barack Obama says


In an election year, it came as no surprise that President Barack Obama's State of the Union address contained the now-familiar soaring rhetoric as well as announcements designed to please students and recent graduates - voters who proved vital to his victory in 2008.

However, with the power of the executive office to enact policy being limited, and with Republicans looking to oust Mr Obama in November's election, there are doubts about how many of his lofty ambitions will be realised in the months ahead.

In particular, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act cited by Mr Obama in his address last week may prove a sticking point.

Despite pledging soon after taking office to implement the act, which would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who entered the US as minors, allowing them to receive in-state tuition-fee rates or federal loans, Mr Obama has found it difficult to garner enough bipartisan support to do so.

The legislation was filibustered and voted down in late 2010, and since then has lost the support of several high-profile Republicans, including the former presidential candidate John McCain, who do not want the act passed without increased immigration enforcement.

Nafsa, the Association of International Educators, released a policy document in November last year urging the Obama administration to press ahead and not to allow conservative factions in Congress to keep delaying the legislation.

"This situation can continue because we have become all too willing to play on the anti-immigration side's turf," the organisation said.

Also highlighted by Mr Obama in his address to Congress was the rising cost of college education.

At an event at the University of Michigan on January, he expanded on his comments, which included the assertion that "higher education can't be a luxury - it's an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford".

To this end, the president said that federal funds for campus-based aid programmes would be linked with "responsible campus tuition [fee] policies".

However, while the Obama administration has said that the measure is necessary to keep tuition fees from "spiralling too high", the move has prompted some concerns.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said that the policy was effectively introducing "price controls" at a time when universities are struggling with budget cuts and increased demand from students for financial aid.

Mr Obama also announced a new "Race to the Top" scheme for college affordability, under which a $1 billion (£637 million) pot will be available for states that are "willing to drive systemic change in their higher education policies".

In addition to this, $55 million will be invested in a "First in the World" competition, which the president said he hoped would find the "next breakthrough strategy that will boost higher education attainment and student outcomes".

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

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