At the American Enterprise Institute, Richard Vedder reports on what Obama did and did not say about higher education in his recent state of the union speech. The states are way ahead of him when it comes to real reforms.

Obama lags as states lead college reform

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union remarks on higher education last night were modest in magnitude and tepid in ambition compared with promises in previous years…

The president’s remarks on higher education were disappointing largely for what he didn’t say. He didn’t even give lip service to the vital role of the states. Public higher education in the U.S. has mainly been a state responsibility, and the existence of 50 systems gives the U.S. variety and vitality rarely found elsewhere in the world.

Nor did he address innovations in the states. Republican Governors Rick Perry of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida are promoting a low-cost four-year degree ($10,000 total) and other consumer-friendly initiatives.

In his State of the Union speech last year, Obama called for publishing national data on the earnings of college graduates by school attended. Nothing has happened, however, and he was silent on it this year.

Virginia has done this on its own, so we now know, for example, that the recent graduates of George Mason University do much better on average when it comes to salaries than the graduates of, say, the College of William and Mary or Virginia Commonwealth University.

My own state of Ohio is one of several that increasingly finances state universities on the basis of outcomes, such as graduation rates, rather than inputs, such as students enrolled.

Georgia’s Hope Scholarship program for many years has promoted both greater access and rewards for meritorious high school performance. The federal government, by contrast, actually rewards poor performance and academic mediocrity by giving more Pell grant money to students who take five or six years to graduate, as opposed to those finishing in four. Obama has proposed nothing to change this.