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Panel on college costs votes 5 overarching recommendations

WASHINGTON (BP)–Five overarching recommendations were
adopted Jan. 21 by a congressional commission created to
examine rising college costs.
The 11-member National Commission on the Cost of Higher
Education — chaired by William Troutt, president of Belmont
University, Nashville, Tenn., a 3,000-student college
affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention — voted
unanimously to recommend:
— “that academic institutions intensify their efforts
to control costs and increase institutional productivity;
— “that the academic community provide the leadership
required to develop better consumer information about costs
and prices and to improve accountability to the general
— “that governments develop new approaches to academic
regulation, approaches that emphasize performance instead of
compliance, and differentiation in place of standardization;
— “that the academic community develop well-
coordinated, efficient accrediting processes that relate
institutional productivity to effectiveness in improving
student learning; and
— “that Congress continue the existing student aid
programs and simplify and improve the financial aid delivery
The panel listed 42 specific recommendations under the
five overarching recommendations. Among them:
— “the creation of a national effort led by
institutions of higher education, the philanthropic
community and others to study and consider alternative
approaches to collegiate instruction which might improve
productivity and efficiency.”
— “greater institutional and regional cooperation in
using existing facilities at institutions of higher
education. Implementation of this recommendation will vary
within and across states. Whenever expansion of higher
education is contemplated, the existing capacity of all
institutions should be considered.
— “maximizing the opportunity for cost savings through
joint campus purchase of goods and services and joint use of
— “that Congress investigate the feasibility of
broadening eligibility requirements for federal student aid
to include students attending less than half-time. Federal
aid should also become more flexible to meet a variety of
student circumstances, including accelerated degree
completion and year-round eligibility for part-time students
and lifelong learners.”
The commission’s report will be utilized in
congressional deliberations this year on the $40 billion
Higher Education Act, which comes up for reauthorization
every five years and contains sizable sums for various forms
of student aid.
Troutt, in a statement issued to Baptist Press Jan. 21,
said, “This commission has been hard at work the last five
months to get a clear picture of what is happening with
college costs. We have researched and analyzed a serious
complex issue at a level of detail that has never been done
“We understand the public concern about rising
education costs,” Troutt continued, “and our report speaks
clearly to American families about the changes that are
necessary — both institutionally and governmentally — to
keep higher education affordable.”
The commission was created last summer in response to
congressional concerns about soaring college tuition — up
234 percent at public institutions between 1980-81 and 1994-
95, according to a General Accounting Office study cited by
USA Today, and nearly three times the 82 percent increase in
median family income in that period.
From 1987-96, the average published tuition price at a
public university increased 132 percent, according to recent
data released by the U.S. Department of Education, although
average spending per student rose at just half that rate, or
57 percent. At private institutions, tuition increased 99
percent during the period, while spending per student rose
68 percent.
Among the 50-plus Baptist-related colleges across the
country, yearly figures compiled by the Association of
Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools show that tuition and
fees at Belmont, for example, increased from $6,680 for the
1992-93 school year to $9,500 for the 1996-97 year. Among
other Baptist colleges’ ranges during the same time frame:
Samford University, Alabama, $7,064 to $9,070; Ouachita
Baptist University, Arkansas, $5,800 to $7,650; California
Baptist College, $7,210 to $8,170; Palm Beach Atlantic
College in Florida, $6,350 to $9,300; Mercer University in
Georgia, $10,287 to $13,896; Campbellsville College in
Kentucky, $5,400 to $6,898; Louisiana College, $4,870 to
$6,110; Mississippi College, $5,316 to $10,250; William
Jewell College in Missouri, $8,970 to $11,130; Oklahoma
Baptist University, $5,386 to $7,085; Union University in
Tennessee, $4,900 to $7,080; and Baylor University in Texas,
$6,590 to $8,756. The lowest increase: Grand Canyon
University in Arizona, $6,330 to $6,612.
Troutt was appointed to the commission by Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott, R.-Miss., and elected chairman
during the commission’s first meeting, Aug. 11 in
Making up the commission were individuals appointed by
the following: three by the speaker of the House, two by the
minority leader of the House, three by the Senate majority
leader, two by the Senate minority leader and one by the
secretary of education.
The commission’s report still falls short of some
educators’ ideas. Bennington (Vt.) College President
Elizabeth Coleman noted in a Jan. 15 USA Today article that
the panel was not taking a hard look at such fixtures in
higher education as automatic renewal of tenure and academic
divisions which compete for bigger and bigger shares of an
institution’s budget.
Bennington was recently reported as charging the
highest tuition in the nation, but it has also abolished its
academic departments to create a more collaborative, cross-
disciplinary way of allocating funds, USA Today reported.
Troutt, in prepared remarks at a commission meeting
Dec. 4, said: “This concern about college cost is very real.
We have seen the fear in parents’ faces as they talk about
sending a child to college. People see a college degree as
something of great value, as a way to a better life; but
they see access and opportunity slipping away.”
Troutt acknowledged, “We know prices have increased
dramatically over a number of years. We know college is
expensive.” At present, he noted, “the increase in the
actual price students and families pay has begun to
Operating costs, however, “are not moderating,” Troutt
said, calling on higher education to “redouble its effort to
contain cost. … Productivity and efficiency need to be
institutional priorities for trustees, administrators and
faculty. … We realize no ‘one size fits all’ solution
exists. We simply are calling for institutional self-
Colleges and universities must “make cost more
transparent to the public,” Troutt also said. “We see it as
a major responsibility for higher education.”
While families must “plan and pay their fair share,”
they are “very confused and poorly informed about this whole
matter of college costs,” Troutt said. “They need help
accessing higher education and the system of financial aid
(which we believe can be streamlined and improved). … We
need to close the enormous information gap about price and
the availability of aid. We are calling for a national
effort to do just that. We want people to know the real cost
to attend various types of institutions and where aid is
available to help them.”
If higher education takes no action, Troutt said, “we
will see either an erosion of quality of life for people who
work in higher education or price increases will start to
climb again. We fear that some type of externally imposed
cost control would then be the prescribed solution.”

Betty Kemp contributed to this story.