Apparently the White House’s highly-publicized meeting with college officials to discuss cutting colleges costs was “very encouraging,” according to those in attendance. Figuring out what “encouraging” actually means is pretty difficult, however.

According to an article by Collin Eaton in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, said the meeting was “very encouraging.”

“There was a general understanding that we can’t have business as usual, that we have fewer resources,” Mr. Hrabowski said. “The question was how do we build quality while cutting costs.” In the discussion, Mr. Hrabowski said many students at his college were able to pay for education with internships and research jobs that assist faculty members. He also talked about the need for better cross-agency collaboration on increasing the participation of minority students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

According to the White House, this is what happened at the meeting:

The President conveyed the urgent need to pursue bold and innovative solutions to help more Americans attain a higher education at an affordable price. In response, attendees shared how they have worked to promote innovation, reduce costs and increase productivity during a time of reduced funding for higher education at the state level.

Let’s see what “bold and innovative solutions” come forward. Policymakers often talk about the “urgent need” to reduce college costs and then fail to come up with strategies that actually make college cheaper for students.

In fact, the problem here is essentially structural. As long as colleges can charge students tuition, and as long as it’s standard for students to go into debt to pay that tuition, there’s no incentive for colleges make any serious effort to cut costs.

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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