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Yesterday, President Barack Obama broke with his practice of declaring an intractable issue his top priority, before abandoning it to Congressional infighting, to double down on his sidelined initiative to make higher education more affordable. In a six-point plan he vowed to implement without legislation, the President fleshed out the details of a poll-tested policy proposal he introduced last month in a series of campaign-style speeches delivered when most voters were on vacation.
"Americans have come to regard a college degree as a right and not a privilege," Obama told a crowd of Columbia University students, who waited for hours in searing heat for the delayed start of the speech. "Meanwhile, prospective employers have figured out that many diplomas are not worth the foolscap they are printed on. What good is a right that is too costly to access, or isn't worth what someone else paid for it?"
The President, who so distinguished himself as an undergraduate at Columbia, continued ad libbing as his handlers struggled to repair a balky Teleprompter, "And so I stand before you today to introduce my six-point Education Now or Undergraduates Go Home plan. This plan will remake one of the few sectors of the American economy not yet in decline since my administration created or saved so many jobs for the dwindling number of Americans not accessing the social safety net we are working so hard to expand."
A transcript of Mr. Obama's prepared remarks was circulated by White House staffers, who asked reporters to substitute it for whatever the President actually ended up saying.
"Point One: The ENOUGH plan is completely voluntary. Colleges and universities are free to choose whether or not to take advantage of its many benefits. But those opting out must proceed on their own nickel. Effective January 1, non-complying educational institutions will no longer be eligible to receive any grants, subsidies, or tax breaks from any federal agency, department, earmark, or government-sponsored entity. This includes, but is not limited to, Pell Grants, student loans, research grants from the NIH, NSF, DOE, etc., donor tax deductions, and NCAA antitrust exemptions. ENOUGH will truly be enough to solve the college cost crisis if we can only end the free-rider problem.
"Point Two: Under the consumer protection provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law undergoing perpetual finalization, all accredited colleges and universities will annually submit their proposed tuition charges for review. Any institution whose tuition exceeds two-and-a-half times the average tuition in the base year of 2008 will be deemed out of compliance. It is not the American way to set price caps on tuition. Rather, universities that use taxpayer funds must be incentivized to restrain their unsustainable practices on their own.
"Point Three: The new ratings agency I have empowered to collect data comparing college costs, graduation rates, and career outcomes will be expanded to administer a federal licensing program that will certify the quality of our nation's college diplomas. Again, the program will be voluntary. But only employers who hire enough ENOUGH-certified and licensed graduates, as determined by the Secretary of Education, will be permitted to do business with the federal government.
"Point Four: In order to prevent grade inflation from undermining the ENOUGH certification and licensing program, I have ordered the Internal Revenue Service to maintain a centralized database of all college transcripts dating back to 2008. Now let me reassure those misguided privacy advocates who do not appreciate the lengths my administration has gone to to ensure that federally collected data is never inappropriately accessed, released to third parties, or misused for partisan purposes. Individually identifiable student grades will remain as confidential as my own college records. But any professor that gives out more As and Bs than were awarded in the base year will be deemed out of compliance.
"Point Five: As we all know, despite the admirable progress the country made even before I was elected president, racial disparities in college graduation rates continue to persist. Part of this must be due to the disparate impact of grade allocation. In order to protect our most vulnerable students from the consequences of even unconscious racism, I have ordered the civil rights division of the Justice Department to launch a carefully targeted litigation program designed to make sure that both grade allocation and graduation rates are free of all statistical racial disparities.
"Point Six: To further improve the value of ENOUGH certification, while ensuring college courses aren't dumbed down to avoid Justice Department scrutiny, I have asked the Department of Education to hire one million ENOUGH certified graduates to staff a compliance monitoring program titled All Learners Resist Easy A's Despite Yearning beginning in the fall of 2015. After two weeks of intense training, ENOUGH ALREADY professionals will fan out across our nation's campuses to audit all college classes, filing monthly difficulty reports that will also be tracked by the IRS.
"In addition to offering secure, high paying, union-eligible jobs to certified graduates seeking to maintain their college lifestyles at someone else's expense, ENOUGH ALREADY will provide a growing pool of over-educated, pre-qualified candidates for future federal regulatory agency positions that are sure to open up as this and all my programs designed to ensure fairness and economic equality expand.
"Thank you for your attention and support. By giving colleges and universities the same kind of thoughtful regulatory support enjoyed by private industry, I'm sure we can achieve similar results."