Obama’s higher-education renaissance should mean benefits for UB
In president's new system, federal funding will go to 'value schools'
Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013
Updated: Thursday, August 22, 2013 19:08
Just why, exactly, did President Barack Obama begin his two-day bus tour in Buffalo?
It wasn’t very clear when he offered his first two reasons at the start of his speech in Alumni Arena Thursday. First, he said Buffalo is “focused on the future,” referencing the new medical school downtown. Second, he said he knows Buffalo is fearless because the Bulls will open their football season at No. 2 Ohio State next Saturday.
Then he offered the third reason, the one that made sense.
“Most importantly,” he said, his charisma palpable, his stage presence effervescent, “I know that the young people here are committed to earning your degree, to helping this university to make sure that every one of you ‘Finishes in Four’ – makes sure that you’re prepared for whatever comes next. And that’s what I want to talk about here today.”
That was the ‘aha! moment’ for me. He was on this tour to talk about higher-education reform, and that was no secret. He summed up his entire message when he said, “higher education cannot be a luxury; it’s an economic imperative.”
What became clear in that moment, however, was that he chose Buffalo specifically to visit UB. He didn’t do anything in the city before the speech – straight from the airport to Alumni – and he took off right after.
So why, then, UB? It’s simple, if you evaluate his plan. Obama’s new strategy for reforming higher-ed – and creating a better bargain education for the middle class – falls in line with UB. Our university should do well in the president’s new ‘ranking system,’ which will hinge on the value of the education.
Obama is trying to make more schools like UB. If every school was like UB, the way he sees it, there would be significantly less debt. There would also be a national parking epidemic, but that’s beside the point.
UB made Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges for 2013, an alphabetical, 75-school list, for the third straight year. Say what you will about UB 2020 – and boy, is there a lot to say – but the fact remains that, though tuition is rising as part of the plan, we still get quite a bit of bang for our buck.
Because of that efficiency, UB should reap benefits in the future. Obama made it clear that schools providing a strong value education will be receiving more federal funding, and “it is time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results.”
I caught up with UB President Satish Tripathi after the speech, and he echoed my thoughts – this plan, this grand revamping of the United States’ higher-ed system – should bode in UB’s favor.
“If you look at our affordability, if you look at the president’s test, actually – we do very well on affordability,” Tripathi said. “We do a fantastic job in terms of the debt-default rate, in terms of very small debt default rate. And if you look at our success, in terms of graduation, it’s on the top as well. So, we really are doing what the president is trying to help other universities do.”
And as for Obama’s plan and its application to the vague, controversial 2020 movement hailed on UB’s website as “the most ambitious transformation at UB since the campus joined the SUNY system in 1962?”
“Definitely, that’s part of the UB 2020 – providing better education to the students, hiring more faculty, so that people can graduate in four years,” Tripathi said. “[Obama] mentioned Finish in Four. That’s what we really have to do to provide. That’s part of UB 2020, to provide more faculty members and instructors so the students can get the classes, they can get the guidance and they can graduate in four years. So really, as far as we are concerned, we are working in that direction.”
U.S. News says UB’s four-year graduation rate is 47 percent. That’s nearly 16 percent better than the average for four-year U.S. public colleges. It’s a good mark.
Still, there are five SUNY colleges with better ratings. Binghamton, the SUNY school Obama is visiting tomorrow, has a 67 percent four-year graduation rate. If UB calls itself the crown jewel of the SUNY system, then it needs a better graduation rate.
“We can do a better job, of course, always,” Tripathi said. “We can do a better graduation rate. And that part is very important.”
UB can get stronger there, but overall, it’s a value school. And because of that, there should be some real federal funding on its way. Regardless of UB’s flaws, it’s the kind of school Obama wants to emulate.
And frankly, I think that’s pretty cool.