Obama Proposals for Colleges Highlight Online Courses

Developing online classes and other nontraditional teaching approaches could earn colleges money under new federal financing priorities proposed on Thursday by President Obama.

More colleges should be encouraged “to embrace innovative new ways to prepare our students for a 21st-century economy and maintain a high level of quality without breaking the bank,” the president said in a speech at the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York.

The financial rewards for such innovation would be part of a larger retooling of financing priorities, Mr. Obama said. Under his proposal, the Department of Education would have two years to create a college-rating system to help students and their parents determine the value of an institution. Criteria would include graduation rates, graduates’ competitiveness in the work force, and their debt load upon graduation, among others.

As one example of innovation in online learning that meets students’ needs, Mr. Obama cited an online master’s program in computer science at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The program will make its debut in January and cost a fraction of a traditional on-campus degree.

“A lot of other schools are experimenting with these ideas to keep tuition down,” Mr. Obama said. “They’ve got other ways to help students graduate in less time, at less cost, while still maintaining high quality. The point is it’s possible. And it’s time for more colleges to step up with even better ways to do it.”

The president also laid out a slate of reforms aimed at stoking innovation in higher education and tempering the rise in student-loan debt. The speech marked the beginning of a two-day presidential road trip through New York and Pennsylvania, with additional stops scheduled at Binghamton University and Lackawanna College.

The speech was not the first time Mr. Obama has invoked online learning as one ingredient in redefining higher education in the face of a shifting education and economic landscape. At a speech in July at Knox College, in Galesburg, Ill., the president noted that some institutions were “testing new approaches to shorten the path to a degree, or blending teaching with online learning to help students master material and earn credits in less time.”

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