The College Affordability Problem—Runaway College Costs

Dan Lips /

This week, the College Board released its annual report on Trends in College Pricing which found bad news for students and taxpayers. American colleges continue to hike tuition rates to record high levels—well ahead of the consumer price index. At 4-year public institutions, tuition and fees rose by 5.9 percent. At private 4-year (not for profit) colleges, tuition and fee costs rose by 4.4 percent. This year’s increases follow a trend that has lasted for decades with post-secondary education costs skyrocketing at rates well ahead of inflation.

Policymakers on Capitol Hill and in state capitals around the country need to recognize that the consistent rise in college costs has occurred during a period that has seen rapid growth in federal and state spending higher education, including direct subsidies to schools and funding for college scholarships and student loans.

College affordability is a real problem for American families and taxpayers. Unfortunately, Congress and the Obama administration are currently focusing on a strategy that has failed to solve the problem for decades: expanding federal spending on student aid and consolidating federal control of the student loan market. A better approach to the college affordability problem would be to focus on strategies that encourage colleges and all higher education institutions to lower their costs and provide a better deal for students and taxpayers.