College costs and values are receiving increased scrutiny, as a federal watchdog recommends transparency, and some private schools lower tuition.
The Red-Blue Divide Over Higher Education Costs and Values
The November election pushed some hot button higher education issues back into the spotlight—student loan forgiveness, the red-blue split over the cost and value of a college education, and the degree of trust in universities.[After hearing oral arguments] in February, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if the Department of Education, without Congressional approval, went too far when it resolved to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in student loans. The department is also seeking to discover more ways to forgive existing loans—one is the Borrower Defense to Repayment rule. (This remedy helps borrowers who can demonstrate that an institution misled them or engaged in misconduct that was in violation of certain laws.)
Another possible department tack might be to seek to forgive future loans. Loan forgiveness is one of the reasons for the national divide on higher education. The divide appears simple. Increasingly, degree holders tend to vote for Democrats, while people without degrees tend to vote Republican.
As for the value of a college education, Republicans often question it, and Democrats tend to support it. After World War II most Americans generally valued advanced education as good for the country. That attitude began to change with the civil-rights and campus protests of the 1960s and the demand to expand admissions for women and minorities. When Governor Ronald Reagan of California began to call universities “liberal indoctrination factories” in the 1970s, his words continued to feed growing conservative resentment.
A 2022 survey by New America found that 73 percent of Democrats believe that colleges have a positive effect on the nation. Only 37 percent of Republicans said the same. One positive development that could find support on both sides of the divide is the expansion of Pell Grants, part of a $1.5 billion package of education funding passed in late December. The maximum annual, needs-based Pell Grant award (which does not have to be repaid), increased by $500 to $7,395, will take effect in the current award year.
GAO Blasts Colleges for Misleading Students About the True Cost of an Education
A new report from the Government Accountability Office blasts colleges for failing to tell students how much their education will actually cost them. The GAO studied a nationally representative sample of 176 (unnamed) colleges and measured their performance in their award letters against ten best practices in the field. The award letters are the first official notices from colleges to students, which are used to compare prices.
The analysis found that the vast majority of colleges—91 percent— either do not include the net price in their award letters or understate the net price in their aid offers. It also revealed that 65 percent leave out important details about aid packages, 31 percent list loans as grants, and not a single school examined by the GAO used all ten best practices.
The federal watchdog agency recommended that Congress consider legislation that would require institutions to provide “clear and standard information.” The bipartisan Understanding the True Cost of College Act, which is already before Congress, would require colleges to follow well-documented best practices and create a universal financial aid offer letter so students can easily compare financial aid packages between schools.
More Colleges Are Slashing Prices and Doing a “Tuition Reset”
Starting next fall, Colby-Sawyer College will cut tuition by more than 60 percent—from $46,364 to $17,500. The goal is to make pricing more transparent and attract more students.
Last year, of the 800-plus undergraduates at the private New Hampshire college, none actually paid the sticker price. In fact, a recent study found that first-time undergraduates received an average discount of nearly 55 percent off the advertised price.
Colby-Sawyer is part of a growing number of small private colleges that are enacting a strategy called “tuition reset” to overhaul prices to reflect what most students actually pay after discounting. The resistance to tuition increases is a reversal from 20 years ago, when families equated price with quality.
Other private colleges doing a tuition reset include Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts; Washington & Jefferson in Washington, Pennsylvania.; Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.; and Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Public universities are also getting into the act. Vermont State University has reset its in-state tuition to $9,999, a drop of 15 percent, and many state university systems are instituting tuition freezes, including in New York, Virginia, Nebraska, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Originally published by Paideia Times. Republished with permission.
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