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Local colleges praise Obama’s initiatives

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As students nationwide grapple with rising tuition and crippling debt, St. Lawrence County college leaders are commending President Barack Obama for turning his attention to higher education.

The president announced a three-point college reform proposal during his visit Friday to upstate New York, detailing the plan at speeches in Syracuse and Buffalo.

All four St. Lawrence County colleges praised the president for his focus on higher education.

“Clarkson University is at the forefront of supporting President Obama’s ‘shake-up’ for higher education and confident about how this upstate New York research university will fare in the new scorecards for colleges and universities,” the Potsdam college said in a statement.

This “College Scorecard” is a key plank in President Obama’s proposal, a ranking system for colleges with similar missions. It will measure colleges based on their affordability, the amount of financial aid they distribute and the success of their graduates or transfer students. Federal aid will be based largely on how a school ranks on the score card.

Clarkson students pay about $53,808 a year, and 99 percent of them receive financial aid.

At SUNY Canton, the scoring system is music to the ears of Chief of Staff Lenore E. VanderZee. The college already has a model focused on producing immediately employable graduates with a small price tag.

“We do this within a model that ensures a career-oriented education at a low cost. In this way, President Obama’s value ranking system fits right into what we already do,” she said via email.

In-state SUNY Canton students living on campus pay about $13,810 a year, and most receive financial aid.

The SUNY system will be vying to play a role in helping the federal government create the standards by which schools are judged on the score card.

St. Lawrence University, Canton, also supports the president’s goals, but is waiting until more of the plan’s details are hammered out before forming an opinion.

“We’re excited that the president is taking a hard look at higher education. I would say that St. Lawrence University is committed to providing a high-quality education at the best value,” spokesman Ryan P. Deuel said. “We want to make sure that we saw more specifics.”

St. Lawrence University is the priciest college in St. Lawrence County, with a price tag of nearly $58,000 a year, but more than 90 percent of students receive financial aid and most graduate with debt just below the $26,000 national average.

The average debt was another key talking point in the president’s speech. He proposed a plan to cap student loan payments at 10 percent of a graduate’s monthly income. This move was greeted enthusiastically by local college leaders.

“Too frequently, student debt is taken too lightly. Our campus doesn’t take it lightly, SUNY doesn’t take it lightly, and it is clear that President Obama doesn’t take it lightly either,” SUNY Potsdam acting President Dennis L. Hefner said via email.

At SUNY Potsdam, in-state students pay about $16,375 annually. The average student graduates with $20,734 in debt.

Ms. VanderZee echoed Mr. Hefner’s sentiment.

“The loan repayment plans the president proposes are crucial for college graduates early in their careers,” she said.

Most of President Obama’s proposals are slated to take effect in 2015.

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