US presidential candidate John F. Kerry is to campaign on vastly increased federal support for public universities, whose state funding has declined dramatically.
The $10 billion (£5.5 billion) infusion of aid would be underwritten largely by an increase in taxes paid by Americans who earn more than $200,000 a year.
In exchange, universities would be required to increase their tuition, by no more than the rate of inflation. The proposals would affect only public universities, which enrol more than half of the American higher education population and are managed on a state-by-state basis.
If the proposal were implemented, it would be the first time the national government had taken a role in regulating university tuition fees.
Under Senator Kerry's plan, $10 billion would be divided over the next two years among states that agree to keep their annual increases in university tuition fees at or below the inflation rate. Last year, cash-strapped four-year public universities in the US raised fees by 14 per cent, more than five times the rate of inflation.
"At a time when college is more important than ever, too many Americans can't afford to go," Mr Kerry told a meeting of a national organisation of minorities, where he announced the plan. "And too many of those who are going to college aren't finishing."
The plan is likely to appeal most to middle-income families, which have seen steep increases in university tuition fees but are not typically eligible for financial aid. Private universities would not be affected.
Mr Kerry also promised what he called a "college completion fund" that would reward universities based on the number of underprivileged students they graduate. A total of $100 million would be available for this programme, which would also require each university to publish data relating to its success at enrolling and graduating low-income and minority students. The Democratic senator said his goal was to increase the number of students projected to receive a degree by 1 million.
A further $300 million would be used to encourage more women and minorities to study maths and science. In addition, $100 million more would go towards maths and science scholarships.
The Bush camp responded that the plan was unrealistic because it would aggravate the already ballooning deficit. They cited a US Census Bureau report released the same day showing that per cent of American adults aged 25 and over have a university degree - a new record.