College costs: should public universities charge higher tuition?

January 17, 2011

Gary Becker and Richard Posner, two elegant, opinionated intellectuals, share a blog called, approriately enough, the Becker-Posner blog.  Each week they choose a topic, one writes about the topic, and the other writes about the same question, often commenting on the first one’s post.  The two posts appear simultaneously.

This week’s topic asks whether tuitions should be raised at public universities.  Such a step would help states that are struggling with deficits, but would it be sensible and wise?  They essentially agree that yes, public universities should raise tuition — that the public should stop subsidizing young people from affluent backgrounds to allow them to pay less for a college education than they could afford.

Becker adds that “poor students alone should be directly subsidized with grants, and/or extensive loan programs could enable all students to borrow to finance their education. They would then repay any loans from their higher earnings after they finish school. Perhaps individuals who earn less would have to repay a smaller fraction of their loans.”

Essentially they argue for public universities to become more independent by cutting their public subsidies but also eliminating the ability of legislatures or governors to direct their behavior.  Public support for higher education should primarily make college possible for poorer students and promote research and creative activities.

You can find the full exchange here. Worth reading.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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