At Long Last, Signs that College Tuition Might Come Down

TalkingEDUSmall.jpg“Annual tuition hikes have been pretty much a given in higher ed, but recently, there are signs that the decades-long rise in college costs is nearing a peak.”

As students begin to settle into classes, one can’t help but wonder whether the price of higher education has maintained its nearly three decade’s long annual increase?

The bad news, tuition hasn’t declined.

The good news, tuition costs may have peaked.

(This is according to lead education blogger Anya Kamenetz who painted a tentatively hopeful picture in a recent post for NPR. The facts are that from 1990 through 2016 tuition increases doubled that of inflation, while over the last 12 months the average price of college tuition rose at the same rate as inflation.)

The causes are threefold.

  • A decrease over the last five years in enrollments, in part due to population decline, in part due to an improvement in the jobs market, has prompted many colleges, private non-profits in particular to offer discounted prices
  • The proliferation of free tuition programs, most notably New York state’s Excelsior Scholarship and a recently announced initiative in Rhode Island for free community college
  • Merit based- or some type of like- programs. According Kamenetz, “more than half the states have some kind of merit-based free tuition, free community college "promise" program or at least legislative action on this front.”

Is this a Trend or a momentary blip?

Kamenetz taps a number of experts to find out.

  • According to Sara Goldrick-Rab, Temple University, and founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, it may be too soon to tell whether these expected increases have abated.
  • Robert Kelchen, from Seton Hall University maintains that “the rapid rise is over", citing the need to lower other education costs such as housing, books, etc,
  • Michelle Asha Cooper, from the Institute for Higher Education maintains colleges and universities still aren’t doing enough to aid the nation’s neediest students.
  • Ronald Ehrenberg, from Cornell questions just how free free college really is.
  • Preston Cooper, research analyst, for American Enterprise Institute wisely notes that bringing prices down isn’t scalable and won’t last if education costs aren’t reduced.

The Bottom Line

The real takeaway here is that there is not a single strategy that will make education more affordable. Rather, a combination of innovative funding at the state and local level, cost cutting strategies that don’t compromise standards, and changes to customer facing processes that will bring costs down making higher education accessible to all.


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