In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed withholding federal aid to colleges that continue to raise tuition.
Some facts: 1) Tuition (and other college costs) have been rising, making college less affordable and less accessible to poor families. 2) In recent years, states have been pulling aid from colleges. 3) To some extent, the loss of state aid has been compensated by increased federal aid, although much of that has been in the form of loans.
What that means is that poorer students are seeking alternatives to college, and those who do attend will find themselves saddled with a pile of debt.
Education is our future. Obama is certainly right to try to make college more affordable. And his proposal has “teeth” – that is, it would put tremendous pressure on colleges to rein in costs.
But is it misguided and simplistic?
If colleges have been hiking tuition to compensate for losing state aid, it isn’t right to point the accusatory finger at them. I fear that withholding federal aid will only exacerbate the problem. Some colleges will not be able to afford to teach need-worthy students. Their student bodies will shrink, and that could lead to bankruptcy.
It’s also hard to blame the states; in this economy, their income has shrunk, and they have cut their budgets out of necessity. One could say that decreasing funding for higher education is shortsighted; they would reply that it’s a matter of survival.
The simple fact is that, during an economic downturn, people and institutions suffer. The best way to get education back on the right track is to right the economy. Fortunately, that seems to happening, if shakily and slowly.
It seems to me that tying federal aid directly to tuition rates is indeed simplistic. State aid needs to be factored into the formula. Perhaps private endowments could be included as well; they also decrease during a recession. Maybe the federal government could offer incentives to states for maintaining college aid.
What do you think?