Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) introduced a bill last month that aims to penalize colleges and universities that raise tuition more than twice the rate of inflation over a three-year period. While the bill is well-intentioned, it is absurd to give the federal government such imposing control over private universities.
GW raised its tuition 10.2 percent since 2001, which would be permissible even if McKeon’s bill is made into law. But some other schools, most costing less than GW, have raised tuition by significantly higher percentages because of the economic downturn of the past several years.
It is commendable that Congress is looking into ways to help families afford the skyrocketing cost of higher education in America, but restricting university decision-making, in the way of cost of services, threatens academic freedom. The vast majority of universities do not raise tuition on a whim or make it their goal to increase the price beyond what the average family can afford. But they set a price that will permit the institution to provide for what they see as the best academic experience possible.
Just as we argue that the city and the Board of Zoning Adjustment should be restrained from controlling University decision-making including student housing restrictions, the same goes for the federal government, which should not be enabled to command the price of private institutions in a free market.
Universities should practice fiscal discipline to keep tuition prices down and exorbitant increases should be properly questioned by those who foot the bill. Beyond that, universities including GW have limited options other than raising tuition when costs increase and revenues decrease, often because of poorly performing investments.
GW, in lieu of increasing tuition beyond the already jarring figure of $29,320, is seeking new sources of revenue through researching the benefits of efficiency in the proposed alternative academic calendar. Congress should encourage universities to find ways to avoid raising tuition, not punish universities with no other way to get funding.