GUEST COLUMN: Improving Higher Education

Article excerpt

President Obama started a national discussion on the high price of college in his State of the Union address on Jan. 24. He declared that "Higher education can't be a luxury - it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford." In order to make this affordability a reality, the president proposed punishing public institutions for unnecessary tuition increases by revoking federal support.

Most of us agree that an affordable college education should be available to every student. However, the president's approach to improving higher education appears to have political incentives behind it, while ignoring the current state of higher education funding.

First, we should put some thought into who should pay for college. Historically, state governments created public colleges and universities and helped fund them. Just a decade ago Colorado paid 68 percent of resident student's tuition, according to a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management (NCHEMS) for the University of Colorado. Students now pay 66 percent of the cost, with the state share averaging 34 percent. This reversal means students pay a higher portion of the tuition in order to maintain quality. Some institutions experience budget cuts more than others: The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) pays 92 percent of its own costs. Obama should be proposing state governments return to higher levels of subsidization to help struggling college students, instead of offering more regulation at the federal level. While he did say "States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets," Obama's plans still call for federal intervention.

Second, we need to consider which schools we want to subsidize with federal money. While UCCS receives only 8 percent of its revenue from the state government, for-profit institutions receive a substantial percentage of their revenue from the government in the form of federal grants and loans. In a 2011 economic analysis, David Deming of the Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote in The For- Profit Postsecondary Sector that "federal student financial aid is the lifeblood of for-profit higher education." His other findings attest to the lack of quality at for-profit colleges as evidenced by higher post-college debt and lower employment rates upon graduation. …