WASHINGTON, D.C. | November 30, 2011 -
Over the past decade, the cost of attending college has increased dramatically. According to the College Board, in-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities have increased approximately 72 percent since 2001. In my home state of North Carolina, the sticker price for four-year public colleges has jumped 25 percent in the past two years alone.
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. States facing deficits and persistently high unemployment have been forced to cut spending across the board. As a result, public colleges and universities can no longer rely upon the same level of state financial support, and must make tough decisions to help make ends meet, including cutting services or raising student fees.
Leaders in Washington have long recognized the value of higher education in preparing students to compete in the global workforce. In 1965, Congress created the Higher Education Act to help low-income students pursue a college degree. As a result, last year more than $169 billion in federal financial aid was disbursed to undergraduate and graduate students, up 81 percent since 2005.
However, 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. In the last school year, the federal government provided roughly three-quarters of all student aid. Despite this tremendous taxpayer investment, millions of Americans are still struggling with significant student loan debt burdens.
Clearly, the rise in the cost of higher education in the United States is a problem – but the answer cannot be found in loan forgiveness gimmicks or a federal takeover of the student loan industry. As we continue to re-think our role in education, we should use our influence to encourage accountability and transparency. Our end goal should be for states, postsecondary institutions, and students to determine the best path forward.
Higher education has remained fundamentally unchanged since its inception with most universities and colleges relying on professors lecturing to a classroom of 18-22 year old students who live on or nearby the campus, adding significantly to their cost of attending college. To help reduce tuition and fees, institutions of higher education should be looking for innovative ways to incorporate new technology and better address student needs. Under the current system, there is little incentive for schools to enact lasting changes or accountability measures for the billions of taxpayer dollars spent each year. States, students and parents must demand accountability for the investment, not depending solely on the federal government.
In fact, in some instances, the federal government has done more harm than good. For example, we have seen this administration restrict academic freedom and tamp down on innovations through inappropriate regulatory policies.
Prospective students and their parents must make it a priority to educate themselves about the true costs of attending college. Meanwhile, colleges and universities must do their part to streamline costs and lessen the burden for students whenever possible. Fortunately, some innovative institutions have already taken it upon themselves to do just that.
Many colleges and universities have dramatically reduced administrative costs by eliminating or consolidating duplicative services. Others have found ways to make use of empty classroom space, offering courses late at night and on weekends to help working students pursue a degree.
The University of Washington and some campuses in the University of Wisconsin system recently implemented accelerated degree programs. These programs help the institutions save on operating costs and pricey student services, while also allowing students to reduce their debt load by graduating in a shorter period of time. As the Chronicle of Higher Education recently noted, Cabrini College in Pennsylvania is working to cut tuition and fees by more than 12 percent without lowering merit scholarships for incoming freshmen. Indiana’s Grace College and Colorado Mesa University are also working to reduce costs, and we look forward to learning more about their initiatives during today’s hearing.
Each of these initiatives helps ensure a more affordable college education remains available for students across America. We should continue to share best practices like these, while also encouraging increased transparency in the reporting of annual college costs. By making the most up-to-date information on tuition and fees available to the public, students and their families can better understand the costs, any loan commitment they will make and develop a plan for managing any resultant debt before stepping foot on campus.
I look forward to a productive discussion with my colleagues and our witnesses on how we can work together to help keep college attendance within reach for students nationwide.
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