Why college costs so much

What’s Behind America’s Soaring College Costs? Private college tuition tripled over the past 40 years in real dollars, writes  Ronan Keenan in The Atlantic. “In the last decade the increase was a staggering 25 percent.”

Federal student aid more than doubled from 2002 to 2012, he writes. That enabled colleges to raise tuition. Lenders bear no risk because student loans are guaranteed by the government.

Colleges have effectively been guaranteed an income stream and have used that certainty to partake in an arms race against each other by constructing lavish facilities and inflating administrative processes. The pursuit of education has turned into a vicious circle in which students need bigger loans to pay for higher costs, and colleges charge higher costs because students are getting bigger loans.

University presidents are paid lavishly, like CEOs of big companies.

Professors are teaching less. Only 43.6 percent of full-time faculty members spent nine hours or more teaching, according to a 2011 survey by the Higher Education Research Institute. That’s down from 63.4 percent in 1991. Hours spent preparing to teach also fell. 

The only way to control tuition costs is to reduce government support, writes Keenan. If student loans weren’t backed by the government, lenders would be reluctant to loan large amounts to humanities majors with low earnings prospects and to unprepared students who are unlikely to graduate.

Both colleges and employers must embrace three-year bachelors degrees; the traditional four years is an arbitrary number that just extends the time in education. Institutions can also reduce costs by adapting to the modern age and offer more online learning. But they will only do this is if the government limits the ability of students to pay the prevailing high tuition costs.

The current model enriches the universities while “graduates drown in debt,” Keenan concludes. 

His proposal would cut access to higher education — and it would force colleges to cut costs. Is it worth it?

Veterans go to college, but do they graduate?

Nearly a million veterans have enrolled in college using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, but nobody knows how many graduate and find jobs. 

Thanks to generous federal aid and the recession, more older students are enrolling in Florida community colleges, but
many require remedial classes.Eighty percent of students 20 and older and 90 percent of those 35 an older require remedial math. Dropout rates are high.

Students learn how to borrow wisely

Some California community colleges are using innovative strategies to promote “responsible use of federal student loans.” Because community college tuition is  heavily subsidized by taxpayers, most students don’t borrow at all, but those who do see federal aid as “essential.”

Medicaid ruling could limit federal coercion — or not

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding ObamaCare includes a restriction on using Medicaid funds to force states to adopt federal policies, notes School Law Blog. That could have implications for education spending.

In fact, just as they did at oral arguments in March over the Affordable Care Act, the justices in their opinions on Thursday raised several education laws and cases, making comparisons between the federal health insurance program for the poor and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, for example. Some of the justices most critical of the health law also appeared concerned about an ever-expanding federal role in education.

The court ruled 7-2 that “the Medicaid expansion violates the U.S. Constitution by threatening the states with the loss of their existing Medicaid funding if they decline to comply with the expansion.”

“Congress may use its spending power to create incentives for states to act in accordance with federal policies,” the chief justice said. “But when pressure turns into compulsion, the legislation runs contrary to our system of federalism.”

However, the ruling may not give states much protection from federal coercion on education, opines Rick Hess.

The justices said that the feds can make new funds conditional, but can’t threaten to yank existing federal aid. Hmmmm. What happens when the feds rejigger funding formulas during a reauthorization and a state is now entitled to receive less funding–are states to be held harmless below their old baseline? If programs grow substantially over time, the new, “coercive” federal conditions will eventually apply to much or most of the funds. Is that a problem? What if the feds zero out one edu-grant program, but immediately launch a new, similar program. Since the program is “new,” are policymakers free to attach conditions to their hearts’ content?

States will be pressured to expand health coverage and spending, he predicts. That means there will be less money for K-12 and higher education.

High school was too easy, college was too hard

Young Texans talk about the barriers to college completion:  not enough math or writing in high school, weak study skills and self-discipline and poor advice on college planning.

Also on Community College SpotlightFor-profit higher education isn’t good or evil, argues an AEI study as the U.S. Education Department finalizes “gainful employment” rules that could limit federal aid to for-profit college students