The rapid rise in college costs has caught the attention of
Congress, which is taking steps to at least give the public reason
to hope for a break on tuition bills.
New legislation, expected to clear the House and Senate after
press time on July 31, includes provisions designed to put pressure
on colleges, universities, and states to rein in the escalating
price of a college education.
The best potential for doing so, some experts say, lies in the
searchable college data that the US Department of Education will
post online to bring transparency to tuition rates and the "net
price" students pay after receiving aid.
One set of lists would spotlight the 5 percent of institutions
with the largest percentage tuition increase over the past three
years - in categories such as public, private, four-year, and two-
year. They would have to report to the Ed Department the reasons for
the tuition hikes.
"There are lists that no college or university wants to be on.
They don't want to be on the Princeton Review's Top 10 party school
list ... and they're not going to [want to] be on the list ...
saying [they] have raised their tuition faster than others," says
Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on
Education, a higher education advocacy and research group in
Washington. But it's difficult to predict the level of impact such
scrutiny will have, given the variety of factors that affect college
pricing, he adds.
The Education Department will also be required to list the 5
percent most expensive and the 10 percent least expensive schools in
Online calculator coming
Within a year of the bill's passage, students and parents should
be able to use online calculators to estimate what any given college
would cost based on their income level and family situation. Since
most students receive financial aid, it's important for families to
see this net price, experts say, rather than simply compare based on
the full-charge "sticker price."
There's little agreement about how effective these new
requirements of the Higher Education Opportunity Act will be, but
many experts say they can't hurt.
"Anything that brings public attention to rising college costs is
good, and public pressure probably helps to moderate tuition
increases in the long run," says Ross Hodel, codirector of the
Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State
University. But for higher education to work efficiently, he says,
"it takes all parties - the states, the feds, and the parent or
student ... [each doing] their share."
States' education spending targeted
To push states to do their part, the law requires that their
higher education funding each year be at least as much as their
previous five-year average (excluding capital and research and