OUR OPINION: Is student aid driving college costs? NoSkeptical is the word for the readers who commented on the Wall Street Journal’s story last week, “Oregon explores novel way to fund college.” Skeptical — or even hostile.
By: Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald
Skeptical is the word for the readers who commented on the Wall Street Journal’s story last week, “Oregon explores novel way to fund college.”
Skeptical — or even hostile:
“Just what we need — another government-sponsored Ponzi scheme,” wrote one. And as another put it (in views that were shared by many), “the reason why the cost of college education is so high is because the government’s involved. Get government out of the business of paying for college, cost will go down, and more students will be able to afford college.”
As Sunday’s Herald editorial described, the Oregon Legislature unanimously supported the “novel” pilot project last week. The idea is to set up an income-based repayment plan in which Oregon students pledge a certain share of their salaries — say, 3 percent for 24 years — in return for tuition money up front.
If the pilot succeeds and the plan takes full effect, the Oregon government indeed will be more involved; after all, the plan’s whole point is to help students pay for college. But what about the claim that all such aid simply makes college more expensive?
That theory has been kicking around since then-U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett proposed it in 1987. Today, it’s a favorite of critics of higher-ed and government spending in general, because it shuts down any argument that government support for students can do good.
There’s one key problem: The theory remains just that — a theory.
And when tested, it hasn’t held up.
For example, here’s the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education on the subject:
“The Commission finds no evidence to suggest any relationship between the availability of federal grants and the costs or prices in these institutions,” and “has found no conclusive evidence that loans have contributed to rising costs and prices.”
The commission’s report dates back to 1998. Here’s a more recent finding from the Government Accountability Office in 2011:
“Overall, (previously conducted) analyses are descriptive and do not necessarily indicate a linkage between increases in the loan limits and changes in tuition or borrowing.”
Here’s Bridget Terry Long, an education economist at Harvard, in testimony before the Senate on the question of tuition pricing and financial aid: “Concerns about colleges raising tuition prices in response to federal aid appear to be largely unwarranted.”
And here is the American Council on Education on the topic in a 2012 column:
“The bottom line is that there is no evidence — and certainly no conclusive data — to suggest that federal student aid significantly affects college prices. ... And according to the by-the-book congressional watchdog, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, when the results of any scientific research are inconclusive, the correct scientific assumption is no effect has been proven.”
As the council goes on to declare, “Game, set, match.”
Yes, college costs have gone up. But as much as critics want to blame financial aid for that rise, the claim fails real-world statistical tests.
Instead, there are other factors at work; more about them in future editorials. And while our country can and should design policies to contain college costs, let’s make sure those policies are based on evidence, not ideological bias.
— Tom Dennis for the Herald