To keep schools from gaming the ratings by enrolling only high-performing students, the president is also proposing legislation to give colleges a “bonus” based on the number of students they graduate who received Pell Grants. The goal is to encourage colleges to enroll and graduate low- and moderate-income students.
“We want to make sure it’s baked into the analysis so we don’t create the wrong kinds of incentives out of this rating system,” Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters Thursday.
The Republican chairman of the House committee that oversees education did not embrace the proposal but said he would examine it.
“I remain concerned that imposing an arbitrary college ranking system could curtail the very innovation we hope to encourage – and even lead to federal price controls,” Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline of Minnesota said in a statement.
The administration will also seek to require colleges with high dropout rates to disburse student aid over the course of the semester as students face expenses, rather than in a lump sum. The aim is to prevent wasting grant money by ensuring that students who drop out do not receive funds for time they are not in school.
Obama is also renewing his call for a $1 billion college “Race to the Top” competition that would reward states that make significant changes in higher education policies while also containing tuition costs.
The bus trip unfolds as Obama also confronts a turbulent international scene, with tensions in Egypt and continuing bloodshed in Syria. The Syrian regime was continuing a military offensive in eastern Damascus Thursday where the opposition said the regime had killed over 100 people the day before in a chemical weapons attack.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, aboard Air Force One, defended the president’s decision to leave Washington despite the foreign challenges.
“As we’re weighing these domestic policy positions and foreign policy decisions, the president puts the interests of the United States of America first,” Earnest said. “The fact that we are doing this bus tour is an indication that the president has his priorities straight.”
The backdrop for the president’s rollout will be colleges and high schools throughout New York state and Pennsylvania. He’ll hold his first event Thursday morning at the University of Buffalo before traveling by armored bus to Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y. The president will hold a town hall Friday at Binghamton University, then travel to Scranton, Pa., for an event at Lackawanna College.
Vice President Joe Biden, a Scranton native, is scheduled to join Obama in his hometown. Biden spent much of the week in Houston, where his son Beau underwent a medical procedure at a cancer center.
For Obama, who has made no secret of his desire to get out of Washington when he can, the bus tours have become a favorite method for reconnecting with the public. Beyond his official events, the president often makes unscheduled stops at local restaurants and businesses, and sometimes pulls off on the side of the road to greet cheering crowds.
In 2011, the Secret Service purchased a $1.1 million bus for Obama’s first bus tour as president. The impenetrable-looking black bus has dark tinted windows and flashing red and blue lights.