Feature

College: Putting the brakes on tuition

President Obama has an idea that might finally “shame colleges and universities into restraining costs.”

College has an affordability crisis, said the New York Daily News in an editorial. Tuition costs have soared by over 500 percent since 1985, leaving the average graduate heading out into the workforce carrying $26,000 in debt. But last week, President Obama came up with an idea that might finally “shame colleges and universities into restraining costs.” Starting in 2015, the Department of Education will create its own college rankings that will tell consumers which ones provide the best education for the buck, using such metrics as graduation rates and average post-college income. By 2018, Obama hopes, the federal government will start giving bigger grants and loans to students attending colleges rated highly for efficiency, and smaller loans to those attending expensive colleges. This “pay for performance” proposal could change education, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com,with colleges facing price pressure from “better-informed consumers and competition from peers.”

We’re amused the leftists in academia have become the latest target of Obama’s regulatory zeal, said The Wall Street Journal. Still, Americans should “think long and hard” before letting the federal government dominate higher education. Rather than decide what constitutes a good college, the feds should stop lavishing $150 billion in grants and loans on students—a prime driver of tuition inflation. Universities aren’t using all that federal tuition assistance to help students, said Richard Vedder in Bloomberg.com. Instead, they’re reducing their own financial assistance to needy students, while pumping huge sums into the construction of new sports arenas, glitzy student centers, and soaring pay for university administrators. “The president is looking at the tip of the iceberg, not its bigger base.”

It’s all a moot point anyway, said Jordan Weissmann in TheAtlantic.com. Congress will have to approve tying the new ranking system to federal aid, and Republicans immediately denounced Obama’s proposal as a takeover of colleges by “Washington bureaucrats.” But this is hardly a takeover, said Matthew Yglesias in Slate.com. Obama simply wants to give everyone concrete information about which colleges offer the best outcomes for graduates. It’s a first, “modest step” toward making colleges more accountable—“but its very modesty makes it achievable.”

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