As I post this, President Obama is making a speech in Michigan unveiling a new “college affordability” initiative. In a preview for the New York Times, Tamar Lewin notes that the plan will include both carrots and sticks: a new competitive grant program modeled on “Race to the Top” that will reward states making efforts to hold down college costs, but also conditions on existing federal aid to college tied to assessments of the educational value of an institution’s offerings.

In the current budgetary climate, and given Republican control of the House, the carrot side of this equation is not likely to go very far. But it’s the stick the President is proposing to wield that’s new and interesting. As Amy Laitinen of Education Sector notes, the administration appears determined to go beyond past proposals to tie federal aid to mechanical measurements of college costs to focus on the relative bargain offered to students and their families–and more indirectly, to the federal and state governments that subsidize higher education.

Regular readers of the Washington Monthly know that this publication has devoted a lot of time and energy to encouraging better understanding of the overall value–to students and to the community and the country–of a college education, not just generally but with respect to specific institutions. So we will be watching the president’s speech and the subsequent debate with great interest.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.