Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently spoke in Las Vegas at a conference on Federal Student Aid (FSA). He urged colleges to reduce their costs. No follow-up questions, apparently.

According to an article by Tamar Lewin in the New York Times:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a speech Tuesday pushed higher education officials to “think more creatively — and with much greater urgency — about how to contain the spiraling costs of college and reduce the burden of student debt on our nation’s students.”

At a time when the Occupy movement has helped push college costs into the national spotlight, the Education Department characterized the speech, delivered in Las Vegas, as the start of a “national conversation about the rising cost of college.”

According to the article, from 1995 to 2007 the net price of college increased 26 percent at community colleges and 20 percent at public four-year schools. Duncan “acknowledged that cost containment was not a simple matter.”

Well sure there are no simple solutions, but what are some of the hard solutions? What are the policy levers Duncan is working to try and make this happen?

In fact, people have been talking about the need to reduce the cost of college for at least as long as there has been a Department of Education. And no one has been able to do anything about this.

Duncan apparently talked about the Obama administration’s effort to help students reduce and manage their student loan burdens and also make student loans somewhat more transparent.

None of these things, however, will actually reduce the cost of college, or encourage colleges to hike tuition less often.

Under the current system colleges have little incentive to cuts costs. Because students finance their education through debt, a slight tuition hike means a slightly bigger loan. The incentive isn’t there to lower costs because in general students just aren’t refusing to go to colleges because they’re too expensive.

UPDATE: Read the full text of Duncan’s speech here.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer