Obama: Higher education key to preserving America's middle class

Government-led efforts to make higher education more affordable to Americans will be key to overcoming the fiscal challenges facing the country's middle class, President Obama said Saturday. 

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In his weekly address, Obama touted his administration's efforts to reduce costs for a college education, unveiled earlier this week.

Under the White House plan, colleges and universities would be subject to a national affordability rating system.

As part of the plan, Obama will press Congress to tie federal financial aid grants to a school’s rankings to encourage students to attend high-performing colleges.

The administration recently kicked off a cross-country campaign to rally support for the new education plan.

The president's two-day trip included stops in Buffalo, Syracuse, N.Y., and Scranton, Pa., with a town-hall discussion at his stop at State University of New York Binghamton.  

The timing of the plan, according to the president, comes as the average tuition costs facing Americans have skyrocketed in recent years, "at a moment when a higher education has never been more important."

Despite recent efforts by the White House to initiate new funding vehicles, such as federal grants and loans, Washington "cannot just keep subsidizing college costs that keep going up and up," according to the president.

With the average debt due to higher education costs topping $26,000, a majority of middle-class Americans are simply finding a college education unaffordable.

"We cannot price the middle class out of a college education," Obama said Saturday.

Aside from the college ranking program, Obama is also pushing a new plan to cap student loan payments at 10 percent, he said Saturday.

The cap plan, dubbed "Pay-as-You-Earn" would help college students and their families "responsibly manage their debt" as they pursue their degrees.

While Obama acknowledged his education reforms may run into resistance on Capitol Hill, saying the "reforms won't be popular with everybody."

"The path we’re on now is unsustainable for our students and our economy," Obama said.

Higher education "shouldn’t be a luxury," the president added. "It’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."