The Expense of Education: Why Does College Cost So Much?

How to control public college costs in two easy steps: (1) Get states to stop cutting education budgets and (2) push schools to become more efficient. Getting it done is the hard part.

Stack_of_BooksLast week, President Obama declared war on the rising cost of college — or at least, he did so to the degree that a notoriously even-keeled politician with a penchant for policy wonkery can declare war on such things. Speaking at the University of Michigan, he laid out a four-point* plan to reverse the surge of tuition rates and student debt that, for many Americans, is threatening to turn higher education into an unaffordable luxury.

Obama’s splashiest proposal would tie federal student aid to a university’s ability to keep tuition low. The plan would also create a $1 billion competition (based on the administration’s successful Race to the Top program for K-12 public schools) that would encourage states to maintain their level of higher education funding while finding savings for students. The White House also wants to create a $55 million pool to fund innovations that would increase colleges’ productivity. And finally, it would require schools to offer scorecards and “shopping sheets” that provide basic consumer information to students, such as simplified financial aid data and whether graduates are getting jobs.

Is this plan just “political theater of the worst sort,” as University of Washington President Mike Young put it? Or is it a brave attempt at “tying the method of funding to the outcomes we’re looking for,” as William Powers, president of the University of Texas at Austin, said? Honestly, it might be a bit of both. Some aspects of the plan look like little more than window dressing in an election year. But overall, it seems like an earnest attempt to hog-tie some of the many wild forces that are pushing up the cost of a college education.

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Source: Jordan Weissmann | The Atlantic