Obama on College Costs

In his speech last night at the Democratic Nation Convention President Barack Obama issued several goals for his potential second term. Once of them had to do with reducing the growth of college tuition.

According to an article by Tyler Kingkade in the Huffington Post:

President Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Conventiontouched on education Thursday night and touted his efforts to increase Pell Grants for low-income students. He also unveiled a new goal for addressing the rising cost of college.

“Help give 2 million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job. Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next 10 years. We can meet that goal together. You can choose that future for America.”

It’s an interesting idea, cutting the growth of tuition costs in half, but it’s not really much of a policy plan.

College tuition has increased about five times more than inflation since the Reagan administration. College prices today are about 559 percent what they were in 1985. Most of this growth, however, comes from declining state funding for public colleges (which between 75 and 80 percent of students attend).

There are many reasons for this. At least in part this has to do with the fact that states are often legally required to fund things other than higher education, even in times of economic troubles.If the Obama administration really wants to change trends in higher education pricing, however, it should consider what those trends really are.

If the administration is going to restrain the growth of college costs it can try “working with colleges and universities,” but colleges and universities are not the primary source of the problem. Work with the governors and the state legislatures; they’re responsible for this situation.

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