By Bill Goodling
Bill Goodling, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, is chairman of the
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce.
PUTTING MONEY AWAY for college is a fact of
life for most families with children. There is no question that higher education
is one of the very best investments a family can make, but it also is one of the
most expensive. And, it is costing more all the time.
When I return to my district in southeastern Pennsylvania each weekend, one of
the first questions constituents ask me is what Congress will do to help ensure that
higher education will be an affordable option in their children’s future.
Their concerns are legitimate. To say that the cost of attending college is not
spiraling out of control flies in the face of common sense. While taming inflation
has been one of the great national achievements of the last ten years, from 1987
to 1996 college costs grew by 132 percent at four-year public universities and by
99 percent at private four-year institutions.
If this trend is allowed to continue, college will no longer be an option for
most American families. And while costs have stabilized slightly in the past three
years, the tuition prices are still increasing at twice and three times the rate
Quite simply, there is a crisis in the cost of higher education. It must be dealt
with now to preserve families’ access to the best higher academic system in the world.
Other statistics offer a critical snapshot of how the college cost crisis continues
to grow. For example, from 1992 to 1993, some 46 percent of college students took
out loans to pay their tuition bills, according to the General Accounting Office.
By 1995 to 1996, that number had increased to 60 percent. Over the same period, the
average amount borrowed grew from $10,080 to $13,269 when adjusted for inflation.
What can be done to reduce the skyrocketing growth of college tuition and make
higher education more affordable? Last year, my committee and then Congress moved
forward to create the Commission on the Cost of Higher Education to help answer this
question. It was tasked with reporting back on real, concrete steps to reduce cost
growth. Importantly, most of the Commission’s members were recruited from the higher
After much hard work and serious discussion, the Commission produced a series
of recommendations for Congress, the Department of Education and, above all, colleges
and universities themselves.
The Commission found that one of the largest obstacles to tackling the problem of
tuition inflation is the lack of information available. For such a large investment,
families should have access to the latest statistics on what their money–often decades
of savings–is buying.
Congress should be the public’s watchdog by performing oversight reviews and holding
hearings on rising college costs. Congress should require the General Accounting
Office to issue a yearly report on cost increases. Such a report would provide a
credible, independent analysis to help evaluate the cost of attending college.
The Commission recommended that the U.S. Department of Education coordinate this
effort by working with colleges and universities to develop a clear set of standards
for reporting costs and prices. By providing a clear understanding, government can
help parents become better shoppers for perhaps the most expensive purchase of their
I think other concrete steps should be taken immediately to help alleviate the
cost crisis. Colleges and universities, Congress and the Clinton Administration should
view these items as “required coursework,” and should be held accountable by the
Colleges and Universities should: