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Montana Tech responds to Obama's plan to make college more affordable

Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:09:32 AM MST   Updated On: Aug 23 2013 09:09:50 PM MDT
BUTTE, Mont. -

President Obama is on the road this week, laying out a new plan he says will make college more affordable, and give students better tools to choose the right college.

We dug through the plan and found it would focus on three areas: Paying for performance, ranking colleges and tying their aid to performance; promoting innovation and competition, giving students more options when it comes to getting their degree; and ensuring student borrowers have more options for paying back their education loans.

NBC Montana went to Montana Tech, a school ranked high for its value, to see what administrators and students think of the plan.

Freshman convocation is a tradition Montana Tech and many other universities celebrate. While incoming students are looking forward to their college careers, they could face a mountain of debt by the time they graduate.

We spoke to Montana Tech's Chancellor Don Blackketter after the ceremony to get his reactions to the proposed initiative.

"I think higher ed and higher ed in Montana has been looking at these sort of issues for a long time," Blackketter said. "Tuition rates, completion and graduation rates, what are the starting salaries, can they get a job when they get out -- these things are near and dear to my heart, and they're near and dear to Montana Tech and our faculty and staff."

But he does have one concern when it comes to the plan -- a measure that would reward colleges with higher four-year graduation rates, something he says might not fit at Tech, a school that focuses on science, engineering and math.

In fact, only one-third of students at Tech receive a degree in four years.

"Students in those science, engineering, and math -- they typically take a bit longer than four years," Blackketter explained.

After the convocation, we headed over to Montana Tech's student union to talk to students about the issues surrounding affordable education, and what the proposed changes really mean for them.

"I don't want to spend a lot of money on a degree or going to a institution where I wasn't going to get a job afterwards," said Joe Schmechel, a graduate student studying environmental engineering. He said Tech's reputation was a huge factor in his decision to come here.

"Probably affordability and job placement were the two key factors," he explained.

All the students I spoke to tell me college affordability is a huge issue in the United States, including Trevor Meador, a Canadian transfer student.

"I know people are coming out with a $30,000, $40,000 debt load," Meador said.

This story is the topic of our new nbcmontana.com question of the week.

We want to know: Do you think President Obama's proposed federal college ratings system will help students make better choices about higher education?

Vote and leave us a comment.