U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. hosted a conference call with college journalists Friday afternoon to discuss the Obama administration’s efforts to support students.

The call included statements from King and Ajita Talwalker Menon, senior policy adviser for higher education in the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, as well as a Q&A session with reporters. It was part of a series of seven events in the department’s College Opportunity Across America Tour, in which King will meet with students and faculty members from higher education institutions across the country to discuss ways to increase college affordability for all students.

During his initial remarks, King highlighted two repayment options for student loans offered by the federal government: income driven repayment, which allows graduates to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income, and public service loan forgiveness, a program which allows graduates entering public service careers to qualify to have their debt forgiven.

King asked journalists on the call to inform their fellow students of potential loan scams, in which companies attempt to charge for services the government provides at no cost.

“The bad news is I’ve got a warning for you too,” King said. “There are people out there who are looking to take advantage of Americans’ anxiety about student loan debt and try to charge you for services that are completely free.”

Addressing a question about ensuring college affordability for middle-income families, King said one of the most important aspects is encouraging states to provide adequate funding for institutions.

In the state of Michigan, higher education took a hit in 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder cut funding by 15 percent under his first budget. Since then, funding has slowly increased. Under Snyder’s most recent budget proposal, funding for higher education has aggregately returned to pre-2011 levels, though the budget has yet to be approved by the state legislature and is subject to change.

Despite this increase, Young Invincibles — a youth advocacy organization, which publishes an annual report measuring state support for higher education — gave Michigan an F ranking in their 2016 report. Additionally, Michigan also ranked among the highest in family share of the cost burden, with families paying 70 percent of total college cost at public institutions.

King said decreased investment from states has led to tuition increases, prompting the federal government to encourage renewed state funding for higher education.

“We’ve been urging states to pay careful attention to their level of investment in public higher education,” he said. “One of the things that has driven higher costs for students and families has been disinvestment by states over the past decade, so we are pushing for states to make a better investment.”

In the 2016 presidential election, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D–Vt.)  have touted two different higher education reform initiatives. Clinton has supported debt-free college, which would allow increased investments in higher education to help students graduate without needing to take out loans. Sanders has proposed tuition free college, which would cause all public institutions to be entirely without cost for all individuals regardless of financial background. Republicans have not released formal plans for higher education reform.

King denied to comment on the Obama administration’s opinion of either of the two plans, but did note President Barack Obama’s efforts toward free two-year community college.

“The president has a proposal called America’s College Promise that would make tuition for community college for hardworking students free,” he said. “For many folks community college can be a path to a four year program or gaining skills for employment.”

LSA junior Taiwo Dosunmu, communications director for College Democrats, said he feels the president has fought to increase college affordability, and the two Democratic candidates — Sanders and Clinton — both plan to continue his work and further their own plans.

“The Obama Administration has made the affordability of higher education a priority since early on in the president’s first term,” he said. “Both Democratic candidates for president have announced excellent plans to continue Obama’s work and to help students deal with the challenges of rising tuition and the burden of student debt. The Democratic Party is the party that is fighting on behalf of students.”

College Republicans could not be reached for comment on this issue. 

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