The cost of higher education has been much on my mind lately, in part because my oldest granddaughter is one of the estimated 22 million students headed to college in the fall. When I was her age, I was able to pay my own freshman tuition from a part-time minimum-wage job in a department store in Denver while I lived at home. But Phoebe won't be as lucky. Chances are she will end up saddled with debt, even though she may receive some merit-based aid and will likely work to pay her tuition.
The cost of tuition has risen dramatically in the past 50 years. I paid about $250 per semester for tuition when I started school in 1966 as an in-state student at the University of Colorado. If I were registering today, my tuition would be roughly $5,300 a semester for a full-time class load. Even after adjusting for inflation, this represents a three-fold increase in tuition costs, at a time when a college degree is a prerequisite to middle-class status.
You would think, given this reality and the Obama administration's fixation on eliminating income inequality, that administration officials would be looking at ways to reduce higher education costs. But no -- at least not when it comes to allowing the for-profit sector to play a role.
College bureaucracies -- like education in general -- are bloated. But efforts to streamline or outsource functions have met with resistance in the administration. One of the latest stumbling blocks the administration is trying to put in place involves new rules for how schools dispense student aid.
In the past, most students received the remainder of their financial aid package, after tuition and fees were deducted, in the form of paper checks. But the issuing of such checks requires a bursar's office and extra administrative staff to oversee. What's more, the whole process is ripe for fraud.
Just as the Social Security Administration has moved away from mailing checks to recipients, so, too, have many colleges moved to dispensing aid into student bank accounts and issuing debit cards so they can access their funds. But the bureaucrats in charge of federal student aid now want to penalize schools and card issuers for making a profit on the service.
Schools who use the services of for-profit debit card companies save millions of dollars by not having to issue checks. These savings help hold down rising costs in higher education. But the Obama administration and its liberal allies in Congress are skeptical of the free market and worry that companies will actually make money by charging fees to students who use their services. Frankly, this skepticism grows out of ignorance of how a market economy works.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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