Following State of the Union, the Price of Higher Ed in Austin

During the State of the Union Tuesday evening, President Obama focused part of his address on the price of higher education. This weekend during PBS NewsHour, we take a closer look at his proposals.

“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future,” President Obama said.

In our Saturday story, we speak with Dr. David Laude, Senior Vice Provost for Enrollment and Graduation Management at the University of Texas. Dr. Laude is tasked with increasing UT’s 4 year graduation rate to 70%. To reach that goal, the school is focusing on low-income students.

“There was an article that had a pretty blunt headline that said ‘rich kids graduate, poor kids often do not.’ If you take a look at whether or not a student’s going to graduate, the most important indicator if they will struggle is if they come from an under-resourced background,” Laude said. “They don’t really have the money to be able to hang in there and to graduate in 5 years or 6 years. Yes, it’s possible, some of them will do it, but every time they do it they’re taking out more loans. Every time they’re doing it, they’re running up more debt.”

We also spoke to Jeff Webster, Assistant VP for Research and Analytical Services at TG. TG is a nonprofit corporation which “offers resources to help students and families plan and prepare for college, learn the basics of money management, and repay their federal student loans.”

You can see our Saturday story in the video above.

On Sunday, our story looks at President Obama’s other higher education proposal: free community college. Webster told us about a TG study that found graduates with a four-year degree, if they started at a community college, “tend to have no less debt than someone who started at a four year school, and sometimes they have even more debt.”

We spoke with Neil Vickers, Austin Community College’s VP of Finance & Budget, about that survey and about President Obama’s proposal.

“We’re very interested in affordability for our students. It’s actually in our mission, to provide affordable higher education,” Vickers said. “When you just focus on tuition, to what extent does that really get to the root of the problem? I think part of the conversation is that a community college student can take out a similar sized loan as though they were at the university. I think there needs to be other discussions about loan programs and maybe this will serve as a good catalyst for those.”

The Texas Association of Community Colleges released this statement in response to President Obama’s plan for free community college:

“TACC has not yet voted to take a position, but, as a whole, the community college presidents in Texas appreciate that President Obama has recognized the importance of community colleges and the importance he has put on providing students with pathways to the workforce and to continue their education.”

You can see that story in the video below.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. Both of these stories are part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx.