Can college costs be controlled?

Despite the recession, college costs keep rising: Last year, tuition and fees increased by 8.7 percent at community colleges, 8.3 percent at public universities,  4.5 percent at private nonprofits and 3.2 percent at for-profit schools.

College leaders must “think more creatively and with much greater urgency” about controlling costs and reducing students’ debt loads, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan Tuesday at a conference of financial aid administrators in Las Vegas.

“Three in four Americans now say that college is too expensive for most people to afford,” Mr. Duncan said. “That belief is even stronger among young adults — three-fourths of whom believe that graduates today have more debt than they can manage.”

A college degree is an increasingly important investment, said Duncan, claiming that a four-year graduate will earn $1 million more over 40 years than a high school graduate. (That’s an inflated estimate, argues Richard Vedder.)

Exhortation won’t solve the debt problem, Patrick M. Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told the New York Times.

“We’ve put huge amounts into Pell grants under Clinton, Bush and Obama, but the money that went to financial aid has been absorbed by tuition increases. And with all that we’ve invested, we have a less affordable system than we had a decade ago. We’re on a national treadmill.”

Duncan promoted the administration’s plans to link federal loans and grants to colleges’ success at graduating Pell recipients, increasing overall completion rates and closing achievement gaps.  He also promised grants “to support programs that use innovation to accelerate learning and hold down tuition.”

Edububble is skeptical:

The Feds can write as many checks as they want, but the college industrial complex will take all of the money and still demand more from the students. The only solution is for professors to teach more and for colleges to quit spending so much money on new buildings. Oh, and quit paying so much for administration. But no one wants to hear those ideas.

The next day, the House Education & Workforce Committee held a hearing on “Keeping College within Reach.

“This troubling trend of higher prices has several causes, including weak local economies, increased spending on student services and academic support, and state budget crises,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, who chairs the committee.

“. . . as our nation struggles with trillion dollar budget deficits and unprecedented national debt, continuing to increase federal subsidies to supplement the growing cost of college is simply unsustainable … colleges and universities must do their part to streamline costs and lessen the burden for students whenever possible.”

Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project, said tuition is rising “much faster than spending or costs” to replace state and local revenues and to cover costlier employee benefits. “Pretty much all of the new money coming in from tuition increases [is] going out the door to pay for the growing costs of health care,” she said.

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[...] Rising college costs are on the agenda: Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for college leaders to “think more creatively and with much greater urgency” about controlling costs.  A House committee hearing focused on controlling college costs. But how? [...]

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