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Congress Seeks Expanding Role in Controlling College Tuition Increases

An article today in Inside Higher Ed announces that the House Education and Labor Committee released draft legislation to more closely monitor and control skyrocketing tuition increases at state institutions of higher learning.

You should read the entire article, but here’s a quick excerpt:

The expanded federal role is clearest in the realm of college costs and prices. Like companion legislation already passed by the Senate and previous versions of the Higher Ed Act legislation drafted by Republicans in the previous Congress, the House Democrats’ bill would require greatly increased reporting about how colleges spend their money, and create “Higher Education Price Increase Watch Lists” of institutions that increase their tuitions above the average for their peers.

Each institution on the lists — which would essentially serve as a “Hall of Shame” for colleges — would be required to create a “quality efficiency task force” that must analyze the ways in which the institution is operating “more expensively [than its peers] to produce a similar result” and figure out how to cut its costs.

While it is clear that the price of tuition has been increasing, in part this is because state legislatures (including ours here in Colorado) have been strangling the universities by reducing state support. Will the states support further federal intervention in higher education? Will they assert that this is an unconstitutional interference in a legislative arena that is the primary responsibility of the states?

While I understand the frustration with price increases, and while I agree that there is a compelling national interest in improving our K-12 school system (thus warranting some interventions along the lines of No Child Left Behind), I do not see that there is a compelling national interest in holding down tuition rates.

That said, I do see that the Feds can play an important role in providing greater access to higher education through an expanded Pell Grant program, which is part of the proposed legislation.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

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