Proposed bill would keep tuition jumps relative to inflation

Institutions that fail to adhere to the proposed guidelines would face cuts in federal funding.

Two U.S. House Republicans have proposed a bill that would reprimand universities that raise tuition faster than the rate of inflation.

The legislation, written by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., was introduced along with a report on the rising cost of college education.

“It is mostly about accountability and giving sunshine to the public,” said Vartan Djihanian, a McKeon spokesman. “Basically, it gives students and parents an opportunity to see where their money is going when they pay exuberant tuition rates.”

Neither representative was available for comment. They co-authored the report, however, that details their motivations for the bill.

“(A) crisis exists because for decades, tuitions have been rising at a rate much more rapid than family income or student aid can keep pace with,” according to the report.

Under the proposed bill, a university whose tuition rates increased more than twice the rate of inflation would need to implement a plan for lowering fees.

Institutions that fail to comply with those goals within two years could become ineligible for some federal grants.

The University has raised undergraduate tuition by 13 percent each of the past three years. The Twin Cities consumer price index went up by 2.5 percent during the same period, according to Anita Newman in the Minnesota Senate Office of Fiscal Policy Analysis.

Minnesota Higher Education Budget Division Chairwoman Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said federal funding cuts are unlikely.

“The federal government does not have the legal grounds to withhold funding from a land-grant college,” she said. “Some states control tuition for all colleges, but the state of Minnesota is a more decentralized system where tuition rates are left up to individual institutions.”

According to the House members’ report, of the $90 billion the U.S. Department of Education invested in higher education this year, $65 billion went directly to students through grants and various other assistance programs. Institutions received the remaining $25 billion.

Moderate- to low-income students who depend on federal funding such as Pell Grants, federally backed loans and work-study funds would not lose grants.

“The federal government has a right to expect colleges to be more cost-effective – not, however, at

a cost to students,” said Phil Lewenstein of the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office. “Students are increasingly dependent on financial aid but they may also start to question whether colleges are as effective as other educational institutions.”

Pappas said technology professions at the University could be at the most risk.

“The costs of equipment are rising and if we want to keep up and have the latest equipment, we have no choice,” she said.

University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said loss of federal grants would be devastating to University programs as well as for citizens.

Pfutzenreuter said the University received $339 million from the federal government during the last fiscal year. Of that, $170 million came from the Department of Health and Human Services to fund medical research.