But private companies are often better equipped than government agencies for keeping track of their customers. By contrast, government bureaucracy is inherently less efficient. Even the most diligent civil servants are hamstrung by the fact that their public bureaucracy is slow-moving and less able to take advantage of the best practices used by the most successful private companies.
The Bush administration has proposed reducing the amount that the government insures private companies against defaulted loans and increasing the fees companies must pay. But for an industry that operates on slim margins as it is, such measures would likely reduce competition and hurt students when companies simply pass these increased costs on to their customers.
Federally insured student loans now provide 30 percent of all payments for college tuition costs. That loan market has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and economists have argued that the result has actually put upward pressure on college costs.
Four decades of experience have shown that expanding the taxpayers' burden while reducing students' responsibility doesn't make college more affordable.
According to the College Board, the cost of attending a public college or university has increased by 86 percent, adjusted for inflation, since the 1991-92 academic year; private college costs have soared by 52 percent in the same time span. Tuition and fees for the current academic year at private, four-year institutions reached $22,218, up 5.9 percent from last year. Prices at public, four-year institutions went up 6.3 percent, to $5,836.
It's time to take a hard look at the reasons for escalating college costs, including rapidly rising federal student aid, and to pass policies that pressure colleges to decrease tuition - and not simply shift the taxpayers' burden from one shoulder to another.