- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

The House’s key draftsmen of college-funding legislation warned the higher education establishment yesterday, calling for an end to “exploding college costs” and asking universities to rein in spending.

Hinting at a new round of federal accountability measures as Congress reauthorizes $59.3 billion worth of yearly student-aid programs, Republican leaders on the House Education and the Workforce Committee issued a report, “The College Cost Crisis,” which says higher-learning institutions should control costs and implement tuition-reduction programs.

“Tuition increases are outpacing the rate of inflation, increases in family income, and even increases in state and federal financial aid, which have grown tremendously in recent years,” says the report issued by committee Chairman Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and chairman of the 21st century competitiveness subcommittee.

“These cost increases are pricing students and families out of the college market and forcing prospective students to ‘trade down’ in their postsecondary educational choices because options that may have been affordable years ago have now been priced out of reach.”

Tuition has jumped as much as 40 percent from 2002, the report states. That trend will deny more than 2 million qualified students the chance to go to college this decade, it says.

By comparison, the report says, median family income increased between 4 percent and 25 percent over the past decade, depending on the state, and the maximum federal Pell grant for college students increased from $2,300 in 1993 to $4,050 this year, a 76 percent increase over 10 years.

“Cost factors prevent 48 percent of college-qualified high school graduates from attending a four-year institution and 22 percent from attending any college at all.”

The lawmakers are expected to introduce legislation to address the issue, but did not offer specifics.

“The solution is not federal price controls, and it’s not another huge increase in government spending,” Mr. Boehner said. “Rather, the solution is to ensure that students and parents, the consumers of higher education, have the information they need to fully exercise their power in the marketplace.”

“Dramatic action must be taken to restore the dream of a college degree for our nation’s young people,” Mr. McKeon said. He said he hoped Republicans and Democrats alike would “take heed of this report and start demanding accountability for the cost increases that have long plagued college campuses across our country.”

Rep. George Miller of California, the committee’s senior Democrat, said, “Everyone agrees that the spiraling cost of college is a serious problem, and I expect that Congress will address it this year.”

But signaling the partisan debate ahead, Mr. Miller said there were “many causes to this problem, one of which is serious funding cuts by the states to their college systems due to the weak economy and huge budget deficits.”

Daniel Weiss, spokesman for committee Democrats, said they disagreed with Republicans about the adequacy of Pell grant funding levels, which have increased from $6.5 billion in 1993 to $11.4 billion this year.

“Pell grant funding levels are still woefully out of date and should be increased, but we should work on controlling [college and university] costs at the same time,” Mr. Weiss said. “This is not an easy issue to resolve.”

Debra Humphreys, vice president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said she believes Congress “is responding to public opinion, which is very concerned about the cost of college.”

Ms. Humphreys said the House Republican report “seems to completely miss … that there is a difference between published tuition rates and what most students actually pay to attend college, since the vast majority of students get discounts on their tuition.”

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