- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

According to Sen. John Kerry, college tuition has skyrocketed over the past four years. He frequently cites Ohio State University, which raised tuition rates by 13.4 percent for the 2004-2005 school year. Rising tuition, says Mr. Kerry, prices “thousands of young people right out of the American dream.” Who does Mr. Kerry blame? The Bush administration, naturally: “The Bush economic policies have left states with nearly $90 billion in budget deficits, and have forced cuts to higher education budgets, resulting in higher tuition, increased class sizes, and cuts to counseling, tutoring, and remedial coursework.” Mr. Kerry, fortunately, doesn’t merely have his facts wrong. He has them reversed.

According to a June 28 article in USA Today, while official tuition rates have increased substantially over the past four years, tuition actually paidhas decreased at public universities, and increased only sluggishly at private ones. These gains were made possible by massive increases in financial aid, much of it in the form of federal tax breaks. As USA Today reported: “[L]isted college tuition is like the sticker price on a new car: Few people actually pay it. In 2003, students paid an average of just 27 percent of the official tuition price at four-year public universities when grants and tax breaks are counted. Students at private universities paid an average of 57 percent.” This means that the amount students actually pay at public universities has decreased by a third since 1998 and increased by only 7 percent at private schools. The poor have seen a $6 billion increase in federal Pell Grants since 1998, a 100 percent increase. Therefore, since President Bush took office, college education has become more affordable for the majority of American families, not less.

However, official tuition prices are high for a reason. The more college administrators manage to persuade the government that tuition is unaffordable, the more federal and state aid they receive. What better way to do this than by raising tuition rates higher and higher, year after year? As National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote recently: “It’s one of the great scams of our time, and Mr. Kerry has been happy to play along by hyping nominal tuition increases and promising yet more aid. He is the dream candidate of greedy college administrators.” The mere prospect of a Kerry administration is an incentive for administrators to raise tuition rates even higher in the hopes of landing even more federal aid. If Mr. Kerry wins, they won’t be disappointed.

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