I’m already paying for enough people’s college

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama talked about making college affordable for every American. He really got my hopes up when he said “But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.” Finally, we’re talking about reducing the cost of college, and not just finding ways to pay for spiraling college costs.

Those hopes were dashed in his next statement “Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that.” Aagghh! Certainly, providing ‘free’ community college will reduce the cost for those students, but it just adds to the list of other people’s college that I and others are stuck paying for.

And it doesn’t address the underlying reasons that college costs are going up so much.

Spiraling college costs

Tuition at Harvard has increased at three times the inflation rate over the past 40 years, and according to Ray Franke, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, “[college tuition] has been rising almost six percent above the rate of inflation” as a long-term trend.

In my column a year ago, I noted “The Oregonian reported a few months ago that Oregon student debt has doubled in a decade and the majority of Oregon college students graduate with more than $26,000 in debt. A recent Forbes article noted that in the past 25 years ‘average tuitions nationwide have risen faster than general inflation and even health-care costs over the same period.’ An October 2013 chart from U.S. News & World Report shows how much faster.”

The chart shows college tuition increasing at nearly double the rate of medical care cost increases.

More public dollars not the answer – some possible causes

A New York Times column from April 2015 notes that “public investment in higher education in America is vastly larger today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was during the supposed golden age of public funding in the 1960s” and that “increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor.” The column calls out “the constant expansion of university administration” as a major factor in driving increasing costs.

NPR reported in 2011 “universities are not getting more efficient the way other industries are,” and in 2014 Time touched on students “having to retake subjects such as math and reading that they should have learned in high school.”

I’m already paying for enough people’s college

After serving four years in the Army, I went to community college several decades ago. Using the G.I. Bill, working half-time and having my wife working full-time, I was able to graduate with no college debt. Putting children through state college was a significant expense, and also left all of us with sizable student loans.

In addition to paying for college for my own family, I also pay for college for others through my federal income taxes and my state income taxes. Those taxes pay for things like federal Pell Grants ($41 billion in 2011 for 9.4 million students), and for Oregon Opportunity Grants for eligible students from families with adjusted gross income of less than $70,000 ($58 million in 2014-15 for 35,000 students). Grants don’t have to be repaid.

So I feel like I’m already paying for enough people’s college.


Before we’re asked to pay for ‘free’ college for more people, the federal government and the state government should conduct audits and report on why college tuition is going up so fast. Then we can have discussions on how to reduce those costs.

To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com