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Vice President Joe Biden touts college affordability plan in Tallahassee

Vice President Joe Biden speaks Monday at Florida State University. “Colleges have to do a better job at keeping costs down,” he said. “And states have to do a better job at keeping funding up.”

Associated Press

Vice President Joe Biden speaks Monday at Florida State University. “Colleges have to do a better job at keeping costs down,” he said. “And states have to do a better job at keeping funding up.”

TALLAHASSEE — Vice President Joe Biden was on his way to prom years ago when he saw his father pacing outside.

Had something happened to Mom? Was something wrong?

His father, it turned out, had just returned from the bank, where he was turned down for a loan to pay for Biden's education at the University of Delaware. "I'm so ashamed," Biden recalled him saying.

The anecdote, delivered in a speech Monday to students at Florida State University, was used to promote President Barack Obama's new college affordability plan — which would reward states for keeping costs low.

The plan earned Biden plenty of applause from hundreds of students at FSU's basketball complex, but it had Florida university system leaders squirming.

Obama is proposing giving fewer federal aid dollars to students who go to colleges that increase costs. But Florida legislators are now recommending hiking tuition, as they've done for the past several years.

On first blush, that sounds like students who choose Florida schools, where prices are still among the lowest in the nation, would be penalized.

That may not necessarily be the case, Biden said.

"You're an exception here," Biden told the students.

University system leaders hope Biden remembers that distinction when he returns to Washington. Until there is something in writing, however, they're not making any bets, a Florida Board of Governors spokeswoman said.

In terms of tuition cost, Florida's universities now rank 44th out of 50 states and Washington D.C.

University system chancellor Frank Brogan issued a statement as Biden wrapped up his speech that called Obama's proposal "extremely unfair."

"Especially in a state like Florida," Brogan said, "where we are the most affordable by far when compared to our peer states at the other end of the ranking spectrum."

Florida Board of Governors chairman Dean Colson said in a statement that penalizing Florida's students by withholding federal aid "would be a shame."

FSU president Eric Barron said "a lot depends on how this is done."

If the government rewards or penalizes schools for changes to cost, Barron said, lawmakers should consider the overall sticker price and not the percent increase.

For the past several years, state support for higher education in Florida has shrunk while tuition rates have gone up — but not at the same rates. Without increasing state funds to universities, last year lawmakers approved an 8 percent tuition increase, and universities added another 7 percent differential tuition increase to reach a 15 percent cap.

This year is likely to be the same story.

"For the first time I can remember, we're actually charging students more and giving them less," Barron said. That means fewer faculty and larger classes.

In his speech, Biden touched on that uneasy balance.

"Colleges have to do a better job at keeping costs down," Biden said. "And states have to do a better job at keeping funding up. To make this work, colleges, states and the federal government are going to have to work together with students."

So how did Biden afford college after his father was turned down for a loan? He said both he and Obama, and both their wives, financed school themselves.

"We know we would not be in the positions we are today," Biden said, "were it not for our ability to borrow money and get scholarships."

While in Tallahassee, Biden also attended a campaign fundraiser reception for Obama Victory Fund 2012. The Tallahassee Democrat reported that contributions were between $100 for a ticket and $5,000 for a private reception.

Highlights of the affordability plan

• Distribution of federal aid, including grants, loans and work-study programs, should be changed to shift funds away from schools with rising tuition and more toward those that keep costs down. In addition, that aid should be increased by $10 billion annually.

• The government will set aside $1 billion to reward colleges and universities that maximize efficiencies through a program called "Race to the Top."

• Another $55 million will be invested as start-up funding for colleges, including private colleges, and nonprofit organizations to come up with ways to improve productivity in higher education.

• A college scorecard will be made available for all degree-granting institutions to help students and families choose a college that meets their financial needs.

Vice President Joe Biden touts college affordability plan in Tallahassee 02/06/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 9:13pm]

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