Tuition freezes in New Jersey

Bunch of carrots
Not the only option, but a good one.

What’s the best way to reduce college costs? Joseph Cryan, who represents New Jersey’s 20th legislative district in the State Assembly, has proposed a bill to freeze tuition and fees for all state residents for nine semesters after their first enrollment.

I found out about the bill, A2807, through Inside Higher Ed and was a little surprised to see that they thought it wouldn’t go anywhere in the legislature. Democrats like Cryan control both the assembly and the senate. Matt Friedman, who wrote the article on that the Inside Higher Ed piece is based on, wrote that even if it does get through the assembly and the senate, Governor Christie will probably veto the bill:

It’s an interesting approach to an issue that’s becoming a serious problem even for better-off Americans, and I’m not sure what to think of it. On the one hand, I’m afraid that such blunt tactics will only burn bridges with exactly the people who need to be on board with reducing (or at least slowing the growth of) costs.

At the same time, restricting revenue may be a helpful nudge to get colleges to be more efficient and careful with students’ money. As I’ve written before, there are more and more options for educators at both the K-12 and higher ed level to improve efficiency through technology and data. There’s also great talent in our colleges, and often enough cash to move to better tech or data. What’s lacking is any incentive to actually improve the bottom line for students. As long as students have the option to take out more debt and are able to pay up front, colleges will only need to make sure that their costs are in the range of their peer institutions.

Laws similar to Cryan’s bill have been passed in Minnesota and Illinois, but the New Jersey bill seems to go further than either. First, it applies to all public and private colleges in the state (except for Princeton because they allow “lower-income students to attend tuition-free”). Second, it covers both tuition and fees. That may not seem like a lot, but fees for some colleges can hover around 20% of tuition.

In addition to (and perhaps before) applying restrictions on colleges, I’d also like to see more incentives, both at the state and federal levels. More like the Obama administration’s ratings proposals and linking aid to cost-savings. There are plenty of smart people who can implement new ideas; they only need the green light from presidents and boards.

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