By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY New York students leave college with an average of nearly $26,000 in loans, President Obama is set to discuss Thursday in upstate New York.
The president started his two-day bus trip through upstate New York this morning at the University at Buffalo's Alumni Arena and will then board a bus to head to Syracuse at about 6 p.m.
The tour will continue Friday morning at Binghamton University and then head to Scranton, Pa.
Obama's focus is on limiting college costs and enact tougher oversight of colleges' performance and expenses. It's the longest trip Obama has taken in New York since he took office in 2009, and he's expected to make some impromptu stops along the way, perhaps in Rochester and Auburn, home to the Harriet Tubman House.
But the focus will be soaring college costs.
"More than ever before, some form of higher education is the surest path into the middle class," Obama said in Buffalo. "But what I want to talk about today is what's become a barrier and a burden for too many American families, and that is the soaring cost on higher education."
Obama outlined a number of steps to control costs. He wants to tie financial aid to college performance and publish new college ratings before the 2015 school year.
"The current system is unsustainable," Obama said.
The Obama administration said about 1.4 million undergraduate students are enrolled in colleges across New York. The tuition averaged $20,443 in New York.
The White House cited statistics from the College Board that the average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250 percent over the past three decades in the U.S. During the same period, incomes for typical families grew by only 16 percent.
At public colleges, as state funding dipped, tuition has almost doubled as a share of public college revenues over the past 25 years -- from 25 percent to 47 percent, the White House said.
Obama announced he will request $1 billion in Race to the Top funding to enact higher-education reforms. The president said he will propose legislation to give colleges a bonus based upon the amount of tuition assistance they provide.
In 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature agreed to increase costs at the State University of New York campuses by $300 annually for five years. The hikes are increasing annual undergraduate tuition a total of 30 percent over five years, from $4,970 to $6,470.