The Education Department and State College Tuition

Earlier in the week the Department of Education published its second annual list of the country’s most and expensive colleges by sector. It’s sort of a head shaking blame game, where the usual culprits show up every year (Connecticut College, Sarah Lawrence, and George Washington University were, again, in the top 10 among private colleges).

This year, however, the editorial slant was a little different. The Education Department used the release of the annual report to highlight price increases in American’s public colleges, which about 80 percent of students attend.

According to an article by Elise Young and Libby A. Nelson in Inside Higher Ed

Public colleges and universities in Georgia, Arizona and California figured prominently on the list of the highest percentage increases in sticker price, as did colleges in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico.

“Quite frankly, we’re seeing some alarming trends,” Duncan said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, adding that state budget cuts were the most important factor in tuition increases in recent years and blaming legislatures and governors for cutting back on higher education. Public universities were frustrated with some of the rhetoric from the Obama administration a year ago that did not, state higher education officials said, acknowledge the relationship between cuts to appropriations and increases in tuition rates.

Colleges, understandably, complained that the report is presented out of context and fails to acknowledge state budget realities, but it’s good Duncan is finally highlighting this problem.

College tuition doesn’t just increase because of climbing walls and high administrative salaries; if public colleges wanted to operate the same way they have for the last 50 years, they simply have to charge students more money if they get less of it from the state.

Daniel Luzer

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