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The Impoverishment of the American College Student

By James V. Koch
Cover: The Impoverishment of the American College Student

Is the end in sight for college tuition hikes?

Tuition and fees at public colleges and universities consistently have risen twice or even three times as fast as comparable increases in the Consumer Price Index in recent years. Since 2000 these costs have even grown 60 percent faster than health care costs. The results have been rapidly rising student debt (now $1.4 trillion nationally), rising delinquencies in debt repayment, and a dysfunctional stratification of public college student bodies on the basis of family incomes. This is a broken, unsustainable model for the majority of public colleges.

Why has this occurred? The multiple causes include declining state support, the avaricious behavior of individual institutions, their reluctance to adopt productivity-increasing innovations, their cost-increasing competition for higher U.S. News ratings, and misdirected federal student financial aid policies.

The key actors are the 50,000 members of the governing boards of public colleges, who too often forget that their primary responsibility is to citizens, taxpayers, and the 15 million students. Instead, board members are co-opted by clever administrators into approving tuition and fee increases well beyond what is needed to make up for declining state funding. Concerted, informed public pressure on governors, legislators, and board members is necessary to move institutions in more positive directions.

Higher education funding and tuition and fee inflation are complicated matters that very few people understand well. The Impoverishment of the American College Student clarifies the central issues and provides plentiful data to support its key points. It is a must-read for anyone who believes that maintaining access to and the affordability of public colleges are vitally important to our society’s future.

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