Causes for College Tuition

Bubble Theory
The view that higher education is a bubble is controversial. Most economists do not think the returns to college education are falling. In a financial bubble, assets like houses are sometimes purchased with a view to reselling at a higher price, and this can produce rapidly escalating prices as people speculate on future prices. An end to the spiral can provoke abrupt selling of the assets, resulting in an abrupt collapse in price — the bursting of the bubble. Because the asset acquired through college attendance — a higher education — cannot be sold (only rented through wages), there is no similar mechanism that would cause an abrupt collapse in the value of existing degrees. For this reason, many people find this analogy misleading. However, one rebuttal to the claims that a bubble analogy is misleading is the observation that the 'bursting' of the bubble are the negative effects on students who incur student debt, for example, as the American Association of State Colleges and Universities reports that "Students are deeper in debt today than ever before...The trend of heavy debt burdens threatens to limit access to higher education, particularly for low-income and first-generation students, who tend to carry the heaviest debt burden. Federal student aid policy has steadily put resources into student loan programs rather than need-based grants (see graph), a trend that straps future generations with high debt burdens. Even students who receive federal grant aid are finding it more difficult to pay for college."

Cost shifting and Privatization
One proposed cause of increased tuition is the reduction of state and federal appropriations to colleges thus making them shift the cost over to students in the form of higher tuition. This has mostly applied to public universities which in 2011 for the first time have taken in more in tuition than in state funding and had the greatest increases in tuition. Implied from this shift away from public funding to tuition is privatization, although the New York Times reports such claims are exaggerated.

Student Loan
Another proposed cause of increased tuition is U.S. Congress' occasional raising of the 'loan limits' of student loans, in which the increased availability of students to take out deeper loans sends a message to colleges and universities that students can 'afford more,' and then, in response, institutions of higher education raise tuition to match, leaving the student back where he began, but deeper in debt. Therefore, if the students are able to afford a much higher amount than the free market would otherwise support for students without the ability to take out a loan, then the tuition is 'bid up' to the new, higher, level that the student can now afford with loan subsidies. One rebuttal to that theory is the fact that even in years when loan limits have not risen, tuition has still continued to climb. However, that may not disprove this proposed cause: It may simply mean that other factors besides 'loan limit' increases played a part in the increases in tuition.

Lack of consumer protection
A third, novel, theory claims that the recent change in federal law removing all standard consumer protections (truth in lending, bankruptcy proceedings, statutes of limits, the right to refinance, adherence to usury laws, and Fair Debt & Collection practices, etc.) strips students of the ability to declare bankruptcy. This is especially true because the government, if it is the lender or guarantor of the loan, has the ability to garnish the borrower's wages, tax return, and Social Security Disability income without a court order. Some have called the Federal Government 'predatory' for making loans which will have such a high default rate, since the default rate for Student Loans is projected to reach 46.3% of all federal loans disbursed to students at for-profit colleges in 2008.

Additional factors
Other factors that have been implicated in increased tuition include the following:
        The practice of 'tuition discounting,' in which a college awards financial aid from its own funds. This assistance to low-income students by the college or university means that 'paying' students have to 'make up' for the difference: Increased tuition. This factor becomes more pronounced in modern times, since more students nowadays are going to college, which means that there are less State and Federal grant funds available per student.

        According to Mark Kantrowitz, a recognised expert in this area, "The most significant contributor to tuition increases at public and private colleges is the cost of instruction. It accounts for a quarter of the tuition increase at public colleges and a third of the increase at private colleges."

        Kantriwitz' study also found that "Complying with the increasing number of regulations – in particular, with the reporting requirements – adds to college costs," thus contributing to a rise in tuition to pay for these additional costs.

Based on the available data, a number of recommendations to address rising tuition have been advanced by both experts and consumer and students' rights advocates:

        Colleges and universities should look for ways to reduce costs of instructor and administrator expenditures (e.g., cut salaries and/or reduce staff).

        State and Federal governments should increase appropriations, grants, and contracts to colleges and universities.

        Federal, state, and local governments should reduce the regulatory burden on colleges and universities.

        The Federal Government should enact partial or total loan forgiveness for students who have taken out student loans.

        Federal Lawmakers should return standard consumer protections (truth in lending, bankruptcy proceedings, statutes of limitations, etc.) to Student Loans which were removed by the passage of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-394, enacted October 22, 1994), which amended the FFELP (Federal Family Education Loan Program).

        Cut lender subsidies, decrease student reliance on loans to pay for college, and otherwise reduce the 'loan limits' to limit the amount a student may borrow.

        Regulatory or legislative action to lower or freeze the tuition, such as Canada's tuition freeze model, should be enacted by federal lawmakers:

        More research should be done: Recognised financial expert, Mark Kantrowitz, issued the following recommendations:

            "The National Center for Education Statistics should increase the frequency of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study to annual, from triennial, in order to permit more timely tracking of the factors affecting tuition rate increases. Likewise, NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) should take steps to improve the efficiency of the data collection and publication for the Digest of Education Statistics, so that all tables will include more recent data. The most recent data listed in some tables is five years old."

            "The US Department of Education should study the relationship between increases in average EFC (Expected Family Contribution) figures and average tuition rates. In addition, it would be worthwhile to examine how historical average EFC figures have changed relative to family income when measured on a current and constant dollar basis for each income quartile."

        Lastly, in order to offset the costs of tuition, some colleges help students in job searches and job placement after graduation.