(CNSNews.com) - Clearly enjoying the raucous, rock-star welcome given to him by students at the University of Buffalo on Thursday -- and even cracking a Millard Fillmore joke -- President Obama outlined his plan to steer federal student aid to colleges and universities that meet government-approved criteria on tuition, graduation rates, minority enrollment, and graduates' earnings and student debt.
"We've got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt," the president said.
And while he claimed his administration has made college "more affordable for millions of students and their families" through federal student aid, Obama also said "the system's current trajectory is not sustainable.
"And what that means is, state legislatures are going to have to step up. They can't just keep cutting support for colleges and universities. Colleges are not just going to be able to keep on raising tuition year after year and then passing it on to students and families and taxpayers. Our economy can't afford the trillion in outstanding student loan debt, much of which may not get repaid because students don't have the capacity to pay it. We can't price the middle class, and everybody working to get into the middle class, out of a college education. We're going to have to do things differently."
Obama noted that some of the reforms he outlined will require action from Congress -- "so we're going to have to work on that."
But, he added, "Some of these changes I can make on my own." That line of thinking drew applause.
The bottom line, Obama said -- higher education is an "economic imperative that every American family should be able to afford."
Obama acknowledged that some institutions of higher learning may not like the changes he's proposing. But he said his concern is with students, not institutions.
He outlined three main goals for reforming higher education, including a government rating system; jump-starting new competition among colleges when it comes to innovation; and developing new ways for students to "manage and afford" their debt.