WASHINGTON, D.C. | July 18, 2012
In recent months, the issue of rising college costs has shifted to the forefront of our national discourse – and rightly so, as millions of young people struggle to manage school debt and find job opportunities in the lagging economy. Annual tuition and fees at public universities have increased 72 percent since 2001, and the cost of private institutions and two-year degree programs have similarly increased. Meanwhile, the student debt load recently surpassed $1 trillion – exceeding total outstanding credit card debt – for the first time in history.
Clearly there is a problem that needs to be addressed, but it cannot be solved solely at the federal level with Washington bureaucrats acting as master puppeteers. That’s been tried over the last decade, and it hasn’t worked. Federal support for higher education increased 155 percent over the last ten years, yet tuition has continued to rise. In these fiscally challenging times, if government subsidies aren’t producing more affordable education in the current system, we cannot just keep writing bigger checks. Instead, we need to look to states and postsecondary institutions for creative solutions to the college cost conundrum.
In a previous hearing, this subcommittee explored ways some colleges and universities are working to streamline costs and reduce the burden for students. Grace College and Seminary President Dr. Ronald Manahan described the value of accelerated degree programs that allow students to graduate in less time, and Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster explained how his school’s innovative work study program has been beneficial to students and the school’s bottom line.
Today, we will learn about state-led initiatives to tackle the college cost problem. As our economy continues to falter, it’s no secret many states are hard-pressed to match the levels of support they’ve invested in higher education in previous years. Despite these challenging circumstances, some state officials are developing inventive programs and policies that provide students more affordable options on the path to a postsecondary degree.
For example, Indiana and Pennsylvania have successfully implemented “pay for performance” funding structures, in which states set aside a certain percentage of funds for higher education programs with the best retention, completion, and placement rates. As one of our witnesses will discuss today, the benefit of “pay for performance” is two-fold: Not only do these structures offer colleges a financial incentive to raise the bar, they also provide another layer of accountability to ensure limited taxpayer resources are being used wisely.
Recognizing not all learning occurs in a traditional classroom setting, colleges and universities in Minnesota and Vermont now offer prior learning assessments. These tests determine whether the knowledge a student has obtained through previous education or work experience merits college credit. And when these tests are implemented for each student, they help eliminate instructional redundancies and spare students the cost of courses that would attempt to teach them skills they already possess. Other states, such as Ohio, require all public universities to offer accelerated degree programs that provide students the option to earn their degree in less time, for less money.
To help lower the tuition bill, some students opt to take courses at a less expensive community college and then complete their degree program at a public four-year institution. Officials in some states, including Louisiana, Florida, and my home state of North Carolina, have acknowledged the fiscal practicality of this approach and implemented comprehensive articulation agreements to make it easier for students to transfer credits to another public institution within the same state. We are fortunate today to have a witness from the Louisiana Community and Technical College System who will discuss how students are benefitting from these agreements.
Before I yield to my colleague, Rubén Hinojosa, I’d like to make one thing clear. I know all of us have the best of intentions when it comes to helping students afford a college education. And we all agree debt should not be a foregone conclusion in higher education. However, we must not forget heavy-handed federal regulations often yield results contradictory to their aim, weighing down states with another layer of burdensome red tape. Instead of leveraging new mandates on states and institutions, we should encourage innovation by continuing to highlight the successful efforts being made at the state and local level.
I look forward to a productive discussion with my colleagues and our witnesses on ways states are working to keep college within reach for more students.
# # #