Thanks to leaks in the days leading up to it, there were virtually no surprises in President Obama's State of the Union speech last night. As expected, the president called for expanding the government's newly created Income-Based Repayment Program to reduce the payments of up to a million more borrowers with sizable loan burdens and comparatively low salaries. Obama also warned that, because of the country's burgeoning deficits, the administration would freeze most forms of domestic spending beginning in the 2011 fiscal year, for which the White House will release a budget plan in the coming days. That decision could have painful implications for some higher education programs and for scientific research. And in the section of his speech about college affordability -- which focused on exhorting the Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives in passing a student loan reform bill that would direct tens of billions of dollars to Pell Grants and community colleges -- the president issued a challenge to colleges: "And by the way, it's time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs -- because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem." The statement had the feel of a throwaway line, but whether it is that -- or the throwing down of a gauntlet that will be followed by policy in weeks or months to come -- is uncertain.
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