Rep. Rick Nelson(D-Middlesboro) has pre-filed a bill for the 2008 General Assembly in an effort to combat rising higher education costs in Kentucky. There is no way his proposal will have the intended result unless Rep. Nelson really wants to make college unaffordable for more Kentuckians.
Rep. Nelson's bill would freeze college tuition rates for two years and then mandate that future increases not exceed the general inflation rate. The bill says nothing about fee increases, which would be the quickest way for state schools to respond to this nonsense. Cost increases have to be paid by someone. After hundreds of failed attempts at price-fixing, you would think we could all agree that this is a poorly conceived attempt to address escalating costs.
Colleges might also respond to this proposal, if enacted, by cutting services. Is that what we want?
By setting their sights directly on lowering college costs in order to increase access to higher education, legislators have increased costs faster than if they had just left them alone. This focus on expanding colleges to receive too many unprepared students has driven up costs without a corresponding benefit.
A recent study showed some benefits of expanding merit-based scholarships and using that as a focus for improving higher education. Kentucky's KEES program is nothing more than HOPE-lite. When we recognize this, we will do better.