House GOP Education Committee Leaders Release Report on College Cost Crisis

September 5, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. House Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) and 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) today introduced a congressional report declaring that the nation’s higher education system is in crisis as a result of exploding cost increases that threaten to put college out of reach for low and middle income students and families. The report, “The College Cost Crisis,” concludes that decades of cost increases, in both good economic times and bad, have caused America’s higher education system to reach a crisis point. The report is available online at

“The purpose of this report is to call attention to the problems parents and students are facing, and the need for greater accountability and transparency in college tuition hikes,” said Boehner. “The college cost crisis is not simply the result of state budget cuts in higher education; it’s the result of the fact that students and parents lack the ability to hold the higher education system accountable for disproportionate tuition increases. They don’t have access to the kind of information they need to fully exercise their power as consumers. We think this is a problem that urgently needs to be addressed, and we’re interested in working with those in the higher education community who are as serious about this problem as students and parents are.”

“This report confirms what my colleagues and I have been fearing all along – that America’s higher education system is at a crisis point and dramatic action must be taken to restore the dream of a college degree for our nation’s young people,” said Congressman McKeon. “Parents and students simply cannot keep up with the skyrocketing cost of college tuition, which has far outpaced the rate of inflation in both good and bad economic times. I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle take heed of this report and start demanding accountability for the cost increases that have long plagued college campuses across our country,” McKeon concluded.

Among the key findings in the report:

  • America’s higher education system is in crisis due to exploding college costs. Tuition increases are outpacing the rate of inflation, increases in family income, and even increases in state and federal financial aid, which have grown tremendously in recent years. These cost increases are pricing students and families out of the college market, and forcing prospective students to “trade down” in their postsecondary educational choices because options that may have been affordable years ago have now been priced out of reach.
  • It’s not just the economy, stupid. Though many recent accounts attribute the college cost crisis primarily to state budget cuts and difficult economic times, the facts show tuition increases have persisted regardless of circumstances such as the economy or state funding, and have far outpaced inflation year after year, regardless of whether the economy has been stumbling or thriving.
  • In both good and bad economic times, institutions of higher education have continued to disproportionately increase prices for students and families. When times are tough, institutions increase tuition; and when times are good, institutions increase tuition as well.
  • Students and parents are losing patience with higher education “sticker shock.” A backlash is possible, as evidenced by student protests taking place this summer on a number of major U.S. campuses. Public opinion shows widespread concern about the cost of a college education, as well as overall interest in finding solutions and involving the federal government in higher education affordability.
  • Americans believe institutions of higher learning are not accountable enough to parents, students, and taxpayers – the consumers of higher education.
  • Americans do not believe a dramatic increase in federal funding for higher education will solve the college cost crisis.
  • Americans believe wasteful spending by college and university management is the number-one reason for skyrocketing college costs.
  • The amount of information available to consumers about tuition increases is inadequate, inhibiting the ability of consumers to “comparison shop” and hold institutions accountable for tuition hikes.
  • While significant tuition increases are the norm, they are not unavoidable. This report found a number of instances where colleges have managed, through innovation and diligence, to hold tuition increases to a manageable level or in some cases even reduce tuition. This not only provides hope, but concrete examples that college costs do not necessarily have to increase at such a rapid pace, and it is possible to keep the dream of a college education within reach.

While “The College Cost Crisis” does not pose solutions, it makes clear that addressing this problem will require hard work, innovation, and open-minded cooperation among the stakeholders in higher education. “The college cost crisis is not likely something that can be ‘solved’ by simple changes,” the report notes. “Rather, solutions will come from increased awareness and understanding, commitment from the higher education community to not only acknowledge the problem but work toward addressing it, and broad cooperative efforts from all stakeholders in higher education to make a concerted effort to improve the affordability of higher education in America.”

The report concludes, “No longer can college cost increases be blindly accepted part and parcel, with little concern for the impact on American families. No longer can the immense federal contribution to higher education be consumed by costs that are swallowing student and family budgets. No longer can lawmakers stand idly by while millions of students are forced to trade down their higher education aspirations, and in some cases give up on postsecondary education entirely simply because it costs too much. Solutions will not be easy, but as a nation, we cannot afford not to address the issue of affordability in higher education. The college cost crisis is real, and it must be addressed for the good of our higher education system and for the good of our nation.”