Subsidizing higher ed

Congress should replace existing higher education tax credits with more direct financial aid.

by Daily Editorial Board

Despite the discouraging unemployment numbers among recent college graduates, higher education remains one of the best investments a person wishing to move up in the job market can make. The economy as a whole also benefits greatly from a more educated and skilled workforce, especially in our increasingly globalized job market.

Yet, the increasing costs associated with completing an undergraduate degree or higher exclude many Americans from enrollment. To make higher education more affordable, the federal government traditionally subsidizes college in two ways. The first is through Pell Grants, which is money awarded directly to students with the most financial need. The second way is through tax credits, of which there are 14 different kinds that students and their parents can qualify for. The application process to receive these tax credits can be complex, and students are unlikely to see their benefits until well after they’ve already paid tuition.

There isn’t much evidence that suggests these tax credits actually provide more incentive for people to enroll in a college or university. Congress should strongly consider eliminating these tax credits, which totaled up to $18 billion in 2009, according to an article published in the Christian Science Monitor last year. It could use the money it saved to instead spend on additional Pell Grants or another more effective way to reduce costs and encourage more enrollment in higher education.

High-paying jobs in the U.S. increasingly require a bachelor’s degree or higher. To ensure that the American workforce keeps up with the demands of the job market, Congress must work to subsidize higher education in the most efficient way possible. We recommend eliminating the education tax credits and, instead, increasing financial aid in more direct and effective ways.