No Short-Term Fixes Here

The Washington Post took on rising tuition costs in one of today’s editorials, acknowledging that the recession is, as everyone acknowledges, a factor.

But it would be foolish to shovel too much of the blame onto the current economic situation:

This problem didn’t start with the recession — and it won’t end with it, either. Annual tuition increases have been accelerating for three decades. Neither federal dollars, nor crisis budget-cutting nor endless tuition hikes — nor any combination of the three — represents a sustainable fix. If U.S. colleges and universities are to retain their international superiority, not to mention the confidence of their customers, they must adjust their business models accordingly. Beyond furloughs or shorter library hours, they must find structural savings — through such reforms as creative scheduling, easier distance learning and more teaching by tenured faculty. As a 2006 report sponsored by the Education Department put it, “state funding for higher education will not grow enough to support enrollment demand without higher education addressing issues of efficiency, productivity, transparency and accountability clearly and successfully.” College Board President Gaston Caperton greeted the news of the latest tuition hikes by calling on institutions to “increase their efforts to reduce costs.”

The Post also draws a pretty obvious analogy: “Costs racing ahead of inflation, enabled by cost-shifting to subsidized third parties — it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the health insurance mess.”

A good editorial, in part because it’s obviously in the interests of colleges to throw up their hands and say, “There’s nothing we can do! It’s a recession!”

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.