The President Should Attack Out-of-Control College Costs

A White House college event was an opportunity to confront college administrators about rising tuition costs.

President Barack Obama speaks about expanding college opportunities for low-income students during an event on Jan. 16, 2014, in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Lawmakers might argue that there’s not much they can do about it. It is what it is, they whisper. Others simply shrug and leave it to free-market principles that dictate the cost of goods and services. Yet, we all know that at some point, this situation will reach a very painful breaking point. Financial aid, experts agree, just can’t keep up with tuition that’s reaching altitudes as high as space launches. 

“The federal government doesn’t regulate prices of any goods or services, and it is unlikely that the federal government would start with higher education,” notes David A. Bergeron at the Center for American Progress.

That said, Bergeron doesn’t think it’s a lost cause for government to start trying. “The federal government could place limits on the amount that students could receive in aid for institutions that raise tuition above inflation,” he adds. “It could provide incentives to institutions to take steps to lower their cost in delivering education by encouraging use of online courses to deliver entry-level course content, and sharing facilities and resources with other institutions.” 

The Obama administration and Congress, however, have chosen to pat themselves on the backs with tepid interest-rate reductions. The White House unveiled its college-opportunity initiative as if some big breakthrough had occurred. Let’s get it straight, though: It didn’t.

Where exactly was that more urgent conversation on ridiculous college-tuition costs? Now in his second term and with no need to campaign, the president could have easily gone bold. Scratching the surface with platitudes about student motivation conveniently avoids taking the higher-education community to task on the actual cost of tuition. Why must they keep raising tuition? How can students really succeed if they’re more worried about financing their next semester than passing the next midterm?

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and frequent contributor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. You can reach him via Twitter.

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