WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ten private U.S. colleges and state university systems announced plans on Tuesday to be more upfront about the costs of higher education, including detailing the monthly loan payments students would face after graduation.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden unveiled the initiative with leaders from Syracuse University, Vassar College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other institutions serving 1.4 million students, or about 5 percent of college enrollees.
Biden said that because 60 percent of jobs in the United States over the next decade will require a degree beyond high school, students and their families need a clear plan for how to pay for post-secondary education.
He told a White House event that the schools’ voluntary plan to detail financing information was “a very important step.”
“It’s going to empower students and their families to be back in the driver’s seat when they’re choosing their college and help pay for that education,” he said.
The White House has focused on college affordability as part of its outreach to young voters ahead of the November 6 election, and as Congress struggles to end a standoff over the interest rates on federal education loans, which are set to double to 6.8 percent on July 1.
Republicans in Congress say they want to keep the rates low so long as the costs are offset elsewhere in the federal budget. They have accused Democrats of playing up differences on the issue for political effect instead of working toward a solution.
But Biden said Republicans were the ones playing games with student loan rates instead of taking seriously the prospect of young peoples’ budgets coming under pressure. “This should not be that hard,” he said in his remarks to the White House forum.
The average student affected by the higher rates would rack up an additional $1,000 in debt over the course of their loan, according to White House estimates. Student loans are already the largest component of U.S. household debt after mortgages.
Obama, a Democrat campaigning for re-election in November, has said he and his wife Michelle only paid off their student loans about eight years ago, seeking to contrast himself with his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who also attended top schools but came from a wealthy family.
Obama is set to make education costs the theme of his remarks to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas later this week.
The other schools pledging more financing openness on Tuesday were Arizona State University, Miami Dade College, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, the State University System of New York, the University of Massachusetts System, the University System of Maryland and the University of Texas System.
They committed to provide clearer financial information to incoming students beginning with the 2013-14 school year.
That will include details about the cost of college for one year and a clear distinction between grants and scholarships, which do not have to be repaid, and loans, which do. The schools will provide examples of payments due for federal student loans after graduation, and give information about default rates.
Additional reporting by John Crawley; Writing by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Jackie Frank and Paul Simao