The president is asking Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to require colleges and universities to slow their tuition costs in order to qualify for federal grants. The law is due for reauthorization this year.

This is something Obama threatened in his last State of the Union address, but failed to follow through on. Over the past decade, tuition and fees at private, nonprofit four-year colleges and universities rose 2.4 percent beyond inflation, according to the College Board. Those prices don't include charges for room, board and books.

College pricing and mounting student debt have fueled popular anger, and Obama seized on college affordability during the fall presidential campaign.