Posted by: Alison Damast on April 1, 2011
I took part in a conference call yesterday with President Bill Clinton, who was promoting the upcoming meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University, a program he founded in 2007 to encourage college students to become community leaders. This year, the initiative’s fourth annual meeting is taking place at the University of California, San Diego, where 1,100 students from 50 states and 90 countries gathered today. Students will be tackling an ambitious agenda which includes sessions on financial aid and college affordability, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and poverty along the U.S.-Mexico border.
I’ve written a number of stories recently that deal with the rising cost of a college education, so I was interested to hear President Clinton’s perspective on the topic. I asked him why college affordability was on the agenda for the meeting and what he thinks can be done to make college more accessible for Americans.
Clinton told me he was concerned that though the U.S. still leads the world in the percentage of people going to college, the country has fallen from first to twelfth among developed nations in the percentage of young adults who are college graduates. “This is a disaster,” he said. “We have to do something about it and we need to focus on the affordability component.”
Another area of concern for Clinton is swelling tuition and fees. After inflation, college costs have increased by 75 percent in the last decade, he noted. “That’s just not a sustainable situation,” he said.
He pointed out several examples of schools with innovative funding models that have helped make college more affordable and accessible for students. Here are some of the schools he mentioned:
• Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, a liberal arts college that covers students' full tuition through a required work-study program. You can read more about the school here.
• University of Maryland, which implemented a state-mandated tuition freeze across the 11-campus Maryland public university system for four years.
• Walden University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an online for-profit university that is part of the Laureate International Universities, a network of private universities around the world for which Clinton serves as honorary chancellor.
• Western Governors University, an online non-profit university founded by 19 governors from Western states that has nearly 24,000 students today. Read more about the school here.
These are the kinds of models that increase access for students, reduce the cost of college and maintain or enhance the quality of a college degree, said Clinton.
"We cannot stay with the delivery model we've had in higher education and get our numbers to where we want them to be," he said.
Students at his conference this weekend will be tackling this very problem and coming up with ideas to make college more affordable for students and families. Here's a list of some of the education ideas students at the conference have come up with in the past. I'll be curious to learn more about the ideas students propose at this year's conference, especially as they are the ones dealing firsthand with tuition hikes.