With federal and state aid to colleges and universities declining each year and the schools passing some of their financial burden to students and families in the form of higher tuition, attention needs to be focused on ways to keep higher education affordable.
President Barack Obama said he is considering new policies designed to keep college costs down. He hasn’t made these plans public yet, but during a recent speech at the University of Michigan he put higher education on notice: “You can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.”
One news report said that, among other ideas, Obama wants to increase funding for federal Perkins loans to $8 billion from the current $1 billion. The goal, it seems, is to make more money available for students.
As at other universities, tuition at Kansas University continues to increase. KU Provost Jeff Vitter has said the university is working on ways to keep a college education affordable. The university is pursuing agreements with community colleges seeking better ways to help people transition from two-year schools (with much lower tuition costs) to KU. That’s a good effort as KU works to improve its retention and graduation rates, but the problem of high tuition at KU persists.
Meanwhile, two KU social welfare professors are researching options that may give everyone a stake in the tuition affordability game: publicly subsidized student savings accounts.
William Elliott III and Deborah Adams recommend taking $3 billion from the Perkins program and using it to establish a program where public funds would be used to match money contributed by families, charities and organizations for an individual child’s account.
Elliott and Adams noted that the savings plans could help alleviate the current problem of student loan debt while complementing Obama’s goals of making higher education more financially accessible.
Their idea calls for students and families to share higher education costs with government and the schools. Most of the tuition burden would continue to fall on the student, but the student would also get the benefit of matching funds, similar to a company helping employees save for retirement though 401(k) plans. Various university and government programs, such as 529 plans, already offer tax benefits to families who establish education savings accounts. Perhaps such plans could serve as the basis for a government matching program.
The idea floated by the two professors could be a good private-government partnership that encourages families to plan ahead for higher education costs. It’s a plan that deserves a look by government and university officials.