Douglas: Rising Cost Of College

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(Host) As the academic year comes to a close, many graduates will be heading for
an uncertain future. One thing that’s all too certain, though, is the
debt that many will be presented along with their diplomas. Former Vermont Governor and commentator
Jim Douglas has some thoughts on the cost of a college degree.

A few months ago Forbes magazine offered its readers a quiz: ‘which
major service industry,’ it asked, ‘has raised prices twice as fast as
health care? The answer is higher education.’

symptoms are obvious and we often discussed this at governors’
conferences. We expressed our collective frustration at multi-million
dollar contracts for coaches and administrators and shrinking resources
for state institutions. The current debate over interest rates on
Stafford loans highlights the trillion dollars that college graduates
now owe for their education. President Obama, in this year’s State of
the Union message, raised the ire of higher education leaders when he
suggested that colleges and universities need to better control their
expenditures and be stronger partners in restraining costs.

have some real advantages in Vermont: there are more higher education
institutions here per capita than anywhere else; we don’t have the huge
salaries at our public schools that are prevalent in other states; and
we have an affordable option, the Community College of Vermont, that
provides access throughout the state to students who could not otherwise
afford to attend college. It’s a tremendous resource that caters in
both curriculum and schedule to those who have other obligations, such
as a family or job.

even in Vermont we need to make college more affordable. It’s critical
to our state’s future. Too many of our kids go elsewhere after
graduating from high school and many never return. If we’re going to
have a strong economy, we need to educate more of our young people here.
There are several steps we could take.

2006 I proposed a $175 million scholarship program that would have
benefited 12,000 students, who would have been required to remain in
Vermont for several years after graduation. Unfortunately the proposal
was rejected by the legislature. We need to provide more support.

have a lot of infrastructure in higher education. A large research
university and 5 state colleges are a lot for a small state; I appointed
a commission a few years ago to examine whether a closer relationship
among them would be beneficial, but the group declined to offer a bold,
cost-saving solution.

and trustees of our public institutions must work harder to restrain
spending and tuition increases, which have usually been greater than

I believe in the
value of a higher education; I’m privileged to work at Middlebury
College. But that value is being questioned in some quarters: The
Economist analyzed the cost of an MBA degree and the salaries earned by
those who achieve it. It concludes that the incremental financial value,
because of rapidly increasing costs over the past decade, has nearly

public and private colleges and universities have done well in offering a
high-quality experience. We should heed the President’s call for
greater economy, however; we all have the right to expect that entities
with which we do business, especially those supported by government, are
doing everything possible to keep costs under control.

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