NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal College Tuition Price Controls

October 17, 2003

Faced with rising budget deficits, a number of states have moved to allow individual public colleges to set their own tuitions and fees in response to their costs and demand for admission. But administrators may be reluctant to exercise their authority if legislation that threatens to withdrawal federal funding from "unaffordable" colleges becomes law.

The proposal -- part of a larger package of bills called the "Affordability in Higher Education Act," introduced by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) -- would establish a ''college affordability index.'' Beginning in 2008, colleges and universities that have increased tuition and fees more than twice the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) would have to take steps to reduce their affordability index score.

Schools that fail to improve would be put on ''college affordability alert'' status. Those that fail to improve could become ineligible for federal aid, including work-study and other loans and grants for needy students.

  • There are 14 states where individual campuses determine tuition, rather than state officials or the legislature, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).
  • The cost of a four-year public college education has increased 202 percent since 1981 while the CPI increased 80 percent in that period.
  • Average tuition and fees for public and private colleges rose from $1,907 in 1982 to $7,828 in 2002, according to the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee.

''Price controls on tuition will force (colleges) to reduce or eliminate the programs now in place to serve those who find it most difficult to attend college,'' warns David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Source: Mary Beth Marklein, "House Bill Aims to Manage Rising Costs of College," USA Today, October 17, 2003.


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