Subcommittee Hearing Focuses on Lowering Tuition Costs While Improving Education Quality

College tuition is continuing to rise, but much faster than spending or costs, according to a report introduced by the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training in a hearing yesterday.

Yesterday’s subcommittee hearing, entitled "Keeping College within Reach: Discussing Ways Institutions Can Streamline Costs and Reduce Tuition," was supplemented with a report by the Delta Project, an independent non-profit policy research organization,  that showed that even though the cost of tuition is rising – as much as 8.3 percent at public four-year universities in the past year - institutions enrolling the most students spend the least on their education.  

"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," Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said. "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."

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) suggested that institutions focus on directing more money to academics than other amenities, such as athletics and technology. While the higher education officials invited to testify at the hearing acknowledged that such investments are tempting, particularly for competitive institutions, reducing tuition costs and improving education quality requires a focused approach.

"Indeed, real productivity will require a substantial increase in the number of high-quality degrees and certificates produced, at lower costs per degree awarded, while improving access and equity for the least well-served populations," Lumina Foundation President Jamie P. Merisotis said.

Merisotis outlined the Lumina Foundation's four-part strategy to improving productivity in higher education, including: 

  • performance funding to incentivize institutions to graduate more students with quality degrees and credentials,
  • student incentives with incremental increases in tuition discounts to encourage students toward completion, 
  • online general education courses that can be completed quickly, and 
  • improving operational and business efficiencies.

Merisotis said financial aid is the most critical factor in ensuring that greater numbers of students receive quality credentials that will, in the long run, create jobs and improve the economy.

"But the fiscal climate and broader economic challenges means that innovation and creativity will be required to enhance the capacity of the current Federal student aid system to serve the increasing numbers of college graduates our nation needs," Merisotis said. "One of the most important elements of a reframed student aid system will be to ensure that all Federal aid programs are designed to support student success - as measured by well-designed indicators such as on-time progression, course and program completion, and graduation."

Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster agreed, saying that "if first-generation and middle-income students cannot afford our tuition, the level of quality is rendered significantly less meaningful." But Foster also noted that many Title IV regulations are already burdensome, and implored members of the subcommittee to "keep an eye on regulations that unnecessarily burden institutions that are trying to do the right thing for students." 

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) emphasized that many of these regulations are important to understanding college costs and preventing accidental misuse of taxpayer funds.

While acknowledging that  many higher education regulations are helpful and protective, Grace College and Seminary President Dr. Ronald E. Manahan said his institution spends more than $300 per year, per student to address regulatory matters. 

Many of the higher education officials testifying yesterday agreed that numerous higher education regulations could be streamlined or simplified, but noted that improving consumer information for students and their families is important.

"You'll get good results if you get the customers involved in checking out the quality of the goods they'll be receiving," Foxx said.



Publication Date: 12/1/2011

View Desktop Version