The Next Step: A Blueprint for College Affordability

March 14, 2012

Whether you're heading to college soon, or are a long-ago alum, we all know that the costs of higher education are skyrocketing. What will it take to bring them under control? The Obama administration has launched an ambitious plan requiring governments and universities to work together to make postsecondary programs affordable and accessible.

$1 billion to encourage states to redesign their higher education financing.

On January 27, President Obama spoke to University of Michigan students about his new plan for college affordability, unveiling blueprint for shared government and universities action. (You can watch this announcement on YouTube.)

Now is a good time for students to follow the fed's lead and create their own "blueprints"—proactive approaches to funding their education.

Shifting the Flow of Financial Aid 

One of the President’s proposed policies focuses on reforming federal campus-based aid programs. The distribution of federal aid will be shifted to schools setting responsible tuition policies and offering quality education to students. Campuses failing to meet affordability and value standards will receive less federal aid.  

To promote systemic state change, the President introduced The Race to the Top: College Affordability and Completion initiative. The proposed program is a $1 billion investment to encourage states to redesign the structure of their financing for higher education. By revamping courses and effectively using education technology, universities can keep costs down and make it more affordable to students.

The blueprint also provides a component to empower students to be informed consumers. New tools, like the College Scorecard and Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, will give families up-to-date information to help them choose schools based on affordability and career goals. The President plans to collect earnings and employment stats to provide students with post-graduation outcomes.

What Students Can Do

With the federal government charting a course for college affordability, students also should be creating proactive approaches to fund their education. One approach is to search and apply for scholarships. Billions of dollars are available for students seeking to complete higher education.

I know a little something about this first-hand. As a recipient of more than $100,000 in scholarships, free money from businesses and nonprofits paid not only for my undergraduate expenses but also my law school education.

On January 28, I had the honor of presenting a scholarship workshop to hundreds of parents and students at Triumph Church’s Scholarship Awareness Day in Detroit. During my presentation, I taught participants how to write compelling essays, ask for recommendation letters, and build a daily scholarship routine. I shared organizational tools, such as activity charts and deadline tables. One of my main goals was to help students feel empowered.

To create a competitive scholarship application, students must tell a unique and captivating story about their community service activities. Parents and mentors are encouraged to help students revise and edit essays.

One word of advice I can never repeat to students and families too many times: don't give up. Continue to apply for eligible scholarships despite rejection letters.

As President Obama told Michigan students, “You’ve got the whole world before you. And you embody that sense of possibility that is quintessentially American.”

He’s right! Whether taking advantage of the new proposed programs or becoming proactive in scholarship searches, I challenge every student to create his or her own blueprint for college affordability!

If you have questions or suggestions, I want to hear them—share them in the Comments area below.

Shayla R. Price, an advocate for college affordability and an attorney, is a guest blogger for SparkAction. She also recently contributed to the White House Young Americans blog.  Follow her on Twitter at @shaylaprice.

Shayla Price