Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) President F. King Alexander was one of just 10 university presidents and chancellors invited to a private White House meeting with President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to talk about affordability in higher education.
During the meeting, President Obama conveyed the urgent need to pursue bold and innovative solutions to help more Americans attain a higher education at an affordable price. In response, attendees shared how they have worked to promote innovation, reduce costs and increase productivity during a time of reduced funding for higher education at the state level.
“President Obama and Secretary Duncan are clearly concerned about addressing the college affordability and productivity issue,” Alexander said after the meeting. “This is why it was nice to receive an invitation to discuss, along with a small number of my colleagues, with President Obama all of our comprehensive efforts to graduate our students while still remaining among the nation’s most affordable universities.”
He added, “This meeting certainly validated Cal State Long Beach’s efforts and the California State University’s statewide graduation initiative to ensure that our students have every opportunity possible to graduate with a high quality CSU education and with some of the nation’s lowest student loan debt.”
It is not unusual for university presidents to meet with federal officials to discuss these issues, however, this meeting has been described as “unusual” by some, primarily because it was announced at the last minute and was held behind closed doors with President Obama. Additionally, the meeting took place at a critical time with student loan debt about to hit $1 trillion and students on campuses across the country protesting rising tuition costs.
The discussion was intended to be a candid conversation about how higher education can remove barriers to college access, affordability and success for students. In particular, the Obama administration is looking for ways to bring down overall campus costs and look for other innovations so college is more affordable for students.
“Our administration has committed to a policy agenda to advance college access, affordability and attainment by increasing student financial aid and enhancing transparency around college affordability information,” wrote Melody Barnes, assistant to the President and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, in her invitation letter to Alexander. “At the same time, the President has acknowledged that meeting the challenge of increased access and affordability is a goal in which we each share responsibility and a stake—particularly at a time when shouldering the financial burden associated with attaining a higher education degree is greater than ever for students and families.”
Among the other presidents/chancellors invited were: three state university system leaders, including Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York, Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, and William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; three public university leaders, including Alexander, Holden Thorp, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County; one from a community college—Thomas Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College, the Indiana community college system; and three leaders from private nonprofit colleges, including Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University, Larry Shinn, president of Berea College, and Robert Mendenhall, president of Western Governors University.
Two other invitees were Jane Wellman, founder and executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity and Accountability, and Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation. Wellman and Merisotis testified Wednesday at a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on rising college prices.