LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow Responds to President Obama’s Plan to Lower College Costs on PBS’s NewsHour

Long Island City, NY—August 27, 2013—In a PBS NewsHour segment on President Obama’s ambitious plan to makes colleges more affordable and accountable, aired on August 22, Dr. Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College and a national leader in community college education, said she was “excited and concerned” about the president’s proposal.

“When I think about my students, the student at community colleges, which make up about half of all undergraduates in the United States,” she said, “I wonder if the measure that we’re going to put together really allow us to make the differentiation that the president wants us to make.”

For the complete broadcast, including a transcript of the discussion, visit  You can also view the broadcast on the LaGuardia website at:

In his speech at the University of Buffalo where he unveiled his plan linking federal dollars to schools affordability and performance, he said other measures would look at a school’s average tuition cost and average student loan debt, graduation rates, the number of its graduates who received Pell Grants for low- to –moderate-income students, and the average earnings of its students once they graduate.

“Colleges that keep tuition down and are providing high-quality education are the ones that are going to see their taxpayer funding up,” said the president.  “It is time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results and reward schools that deliver for American students and our future.”

Looking at the measures the president spelled out, Ray Suarez, the segment’s moderator, asked Dr. Mellow if community colleges, which serve a large population of low-income students and immigrants, would be burdened by these measures.

Dr. Mellow pointed out that funding of higher education in this country is built on a “pyramid” where the most prepared people get the most federal dollars. She added that if the government would instead begin to look at where student start and the changes LaGuardia and other community colleges make in these students’ lives it would see that community colleges are a great investment for federal dollars.

“I always say that LaGuardia is a better return on investment than Harvard because of the amount of change that we make,” said Dr. Mellow.  “We take immigrants who are struggling to assimilate in their new country, single moms who are juggling school and family and veterans hoping to get their life back on track—and providing them with a gateway to the middle class and a promising future.”

Mr. Suarez posed another question to Dr. Mellow regarding the idea of increasing the access to the pay-as-you-earn program that would cap the percentage of a graduate’s income that goes to paying down debt.

Since many community college students juggle school and work, Dr. Mellow said that that capping debt is an appealing feature of the plan, however, not enough attention is being made to the older student who does not have the luxury of going to school full time.

“I don’t see enough in this new set of proposals that would really help the adult student who is also working.”

Joining Dr. Mellow in the discussion was Sandy Baum,  a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education; and Anya Kamenetz, author of a new book on higher education, “DIY U” and a contributing writer for “Fast Company.”

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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit to learn more.