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Cost hikes blamed on regulatory compliance – federal regulations not responsible for rise in education costs

In a possible preview of the debate on next year’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), college and university leaders told Congress this month that federal regulations are partly to blame for the high cost of college.


“Compliance with federal regulations invariably carries a price tag, and the funds to comply with these regulations come largely from tuition,” said Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, representing the American Council on Education and 17 other higher education groups.


Gee cited broader access for disabled students and more women’s athletic programs as examples of “worthwhile” social policy objectives that nonetheless can cause extra costs for colleges. “The issue is that there is no free lunch,” Gee said.


The remarks to the House Postsecondary Education Subcommittee drew interest from Republican leaders on the committee, who frequently criticize the vast educational bureaucracy. The panel asked Gee and other witnesses to identify burdensome rules and regulations for possible congressional action.


Gee also blamed “sensationalized” news stories for public concern about the cost of attending college. Such stories focus only on a small number of high-priced institutions, while both public and independent colleges remain accessible for most families, he said. The typical public university charges tuition of $2,982, and there are three times as many independent institutions with tuitions under $8,000 a year as there are institutions charging more than $16,000.


Other factors also affect tuition increases, including technology purchases, state education cuts and 1, increased financial aid support. Special focus groups convened by college and university associations found that most parents overestimated the cost of college, with some tuitions falling below even what these adults termed a “fair price,, for tuition. “From this perspective, the price of higher education at many colleges is a bargain,” Gee said.


A student witness before the panel found fault with these views, however. Undergraduate enrollment rose 28 percent from 1975 to 1993, while the number of non-teaching college administrators rose 83 percent during that same period, said Thomas Hall of the United States Student Association. “The dollars to fund that excess continually come out of student pockets,” Hall said.


Extra fees plus room and board also drive up college costs, he said. For example, students at the University of Massachusetts paid $2,220 for tuition last year, while fees amounted to $3,294 and room and board cost $4,188, for a total attendance cost of $9,702, four times the cost of tuition alone.


Federal regulations also are not to blame for high tuition, Hall said. Such regulations affect all types of businesses, from food to airlines, which have not increased prices similar to colleges and universities. “To propose to students that compliance with federal regulations … can truly explain the stunning rates of tuition inflation strikes us again as dubious,” he said.


One witness said this debate on college costs must not limit access for disadvantaged students. Limiting remedial courses or raising standards for less-qualified students will not help the economy, said Thomas Kane of Harvard University.


“The economy is demanding” that America provide more post-secondary education opportunities for students, he said. High school standards also are going up, he said.


The hearing was one of several scheduled this year as Congress gears up to tackle the Higher Education Act reauthorization in 1997. At stake in the debate will be the future of student aid, aid to developing institutions and federal oversight of colleges.


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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