Experts suggest ways to lower college costs

Panelists agreed that higher education must become more affordable and attainable.

Simplifying the student aid process, requiring colleges to share in the risk from student loan defaults, and using technology to keep costs down were some of the ideas discussed at a recent summit addressing college costs.

Higher education must become more affordable, accessible, and attainable if the United States hopes to increase its global competitiveness, said a group of policy specialists, government officials, and higher-education stakeholders at the College Savings Foundation’s 2012 Summit, a gathering to address the ever-increasing college cost conundrum.

“What you do in policy depends on what you think the underlying factors are,” said Art Hauptman, a public policy consultant who specializes in higher-education finances. “Is this a cost-push or a demand-pull inflation?”

According to Hauptman, logic points to a demand-pull inflation, meaning that higher-education institutions and  federal and state governments need to change their behaviors to achieve lower costs.

Although the U.S. currently reports record numbers of students enrolled in higher education, the number of students and parents borrowing money to finance that enrollment also has increased dramatically. As a result, the gap between college attendance and college costs has widened.

“Neither the Democratic nor the Republican approaches are likely to help win the race,” said Hauptman. “One reason [that] we have the greatest system in the world is because the government stays out of the academic side of higher education.”

Hauptman outlined five key cost control strategies and explained how, with cooperation across the aisle, federal and state governments can execute them.

First, Hauptman called for a simplified and streamlined student aid process. The federal government needs to improve internet-accessible information and open counseling centers so that students and parents clearly understand their loan and repayment options, he said.

Adopting policies to counteract the higher-education cost curve is equally necessary. Hauptman suggested that the federal government restrict the use of private loans by requiring colleges to limit the amount their students are permitted to borrow.

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