Vice President Joe Biden is often jeered for his gaffes, but given his recent remarks about education he should be applauded for his candor.
“By the way, government subsidies have impacted upon rising tuition costs. It’s a conundrum here,” Biden said at an event at Florida State University.
The refreshing, if startling, honesty came in response to a student question of whether increasing the availability of student loans is partly responsible for rising tuition costs.
The student’s concern is one shared by an increasing number of young adults who are feeling the financial impact of dramatically rising tuition costs firsthand. The most recent data from the College Board found that the average in-state tuition at a four-year public college rose an additional $631 this year – an 8.3 percent increase. Indeed, since 1978 the price of tuition has increased 650 points above inflation. By comparison, housing prices, a bubble that we are still trying to recover from, only increased by 50 points in the same timeframe.
Unless something is done to address this rapid cost escalation, Americans colleges may as well come with the disclaimer: “Middle class need not apply.”
Unfortunately, President Obama’s attempt to woo college students, the constituency most responsible for carrying him to victory in 2008, only makes the situation worse. The presumption underlying nearly all of his reforms, from higher Pell Grants to lower monthly payments, is that more and cheaper money will make higher education more affordable.
History tells us that assumption is clearly wrong.
Former Secretary of Education William Bennett knew as much. In a 1987 op-ed, Bennett wrote, “If anything, increases in financial aid in recent years have enabled colleges and universities blithely to raise their tuitions, confident that Federal loan subsidies would help to cushion the increase.”
Not much has changed since Bennett left office. Between 1980 and 2010 the real average tuition at 4-year public colleges rose by $5,500 and $17,800 at private universities according to a study by Neil McCluskey of the Cato Institute. Concordantly, total aid per student rose by $8,165 – a number that almost exactly parallels the increased tuition when public and private schools are weighted and averaged.
The more money Washington tries to put in student’s wallets, the more clever colleges get at capturing that money. And the more expensive college gets, the bigger the loans and the deeper the debt that college students are forced to go into.
That’s the reality that President Obama has been so anxious to avoid and the reality that Vice President Biden so clumsily admitted. With each new passing student loan plan it has become clear that this is not an effort aimed at making college more affordable, it’s about making Obama more electable to an age group that has grown increasingly disaffected by his policies.
But as the astute Florida State student shows, young adults are wising up to Obama’s schemes. Tuitions are soaring, but more federal subsidies will only stoke the fire. Student loan balances are rising, but capping payments and forgiving balances is just rebranding it as the national debt. And affordability should be a key goal, but further federal intervention and regulatory burdens will only mean higher costs for families.
The answer is not more government. If Vice President Joe Biden wants to continue being honest with college students, hopefully he’ll tell you that.
Alex Schriver is the National Chairman of the College Republican National Committee, a 527 political organization in Washington D.C. and serves on the Board of Directors for Reform Alabama, a 501(c)4 working to support, promote and sustain sound government reform policies in Alabama. His Twitter handle is @AlexSchriver