August 16, 2005


US bid to keep tabs on tuition irks colleges: Schools object to proposal to rank their cost increases (Kaitlin Bell, August 16, 2005, Boston Globe)

Colleges are accustomed to being ranked on the basis of everything from the quality of their libraries to the vibrancy of campus party scenes. But a proposal to have the federal government compare schools by how much they increase tuition has administrators and higher-education groups objecting.

Such a ranking, proposed as part of legislation to renew higher-education programs, would require public and private colleges to report their tuition and fees annually to the US Department of Education. The federal agency would then assign each school a ''college affordability index" based on the rate of increase, and make the information public.

If tuition rose at more than double the rate of inflation over a three-year period, schools would have to submit detailed reports justifying the increases, and could face the risk of a government audit.

Congressional backers of the provision in the House version of the bill maintain that college tuition has spiraled out of control in recent decades and that pressure from the federal government is necessary to force schools to cut costs.

''When the federal government is spending tens of billions of dollars on higher education, and we're asking for a little accountability, then there's no reason why these schools can't provide us with information about why their tuition and fees are increasing," said Vartan Djihanian, a spokesman for Representative Buck McKeon, Republican of California. ''If a college or university is receiving federal aid and their tuition and fees are continuing to skyrocket at hyperinflationary rates, then students, parents, and taxpayers deserve to know why."

How about ranking them according to their graduates' return on their dollar? That'd lower tutions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 16, 2005 12:00 AM

Dealing with percentage of increase in tuition & fees alone is a good way to lie with statistics.

Choosing the base year for calculations is key. If the feds are planning on only going back 3 years, that's deceptive. We have had negligent inflation for a decade.

How about 1995 as the base? The surge in tuition/fees/dorms will startle parents. And, that's the point

Posted by: John J. Coupal at August 16, 2005 10:00 AM

Anyone know why there aren't new universities springing up every day (I mean traditional universities with actual campuses, not virtual ones like Phoenix U)? Academics are always whining about how few jobs there are and the public is whining about how much tuition costs. Obviously the supply of college slots doesn't match the demand. Equally obviously, the currently established universities like things the way they are, so I suspect they would make accreditation a struggle, but then you'd think Congress could use anti-trust laws if things went too far...

Posted by: b at August 16, 2005 11:30 AM

You need accreditation so your students can get federal loan guarantees and some financial aid; otherwise, you pretty much can't operate. You can't get accreditation unless you have an operating history. Thus, the entry barrier for new institutions is awful damned high.

Posted by: Mike Morley at August 16, 2005 12:39 PM

"Anyone know why there aren't new universities springing up every day (I mean traditional universities with actual campuses, not virtual ones like Phoenix U)?"

Actually there are. there is a new Olin College of Engineering in MA. The U Cal System has a campus at Merced, I believe, that is about to open. Further lots of existing small colleges expanded dramatically over the past few years. A little catholic girls school near me that used to be called St. Mary of the Springs, is now Ohio Dominican University with new dormitories and an MBA program.

The real dramatic expansion has been in the proprietary sector, with outfits like Phoenix and Corinthian.

They have all gotten accreditation. The problem is not in the supply of college seats.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 17, 2005 2:15 AM
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