Colleges say they could lower tuition — if only they could talk to each other about it


Pssst: America’s private colleges have an idea to stop, and even reverse, their big annual increases in tuition. They say it would help ensure financial aid goes to the students who need it most.

All they want is for you to trust them. And an exemption from federal antitrust laws that ban consultation about prices and discounts among competitors in any industry.

So far this proposal, from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, is only the subject of quiet talks between private-college lobbyists and congressional committees. Exempting anyone from antitrust law is likely to be hugely controversial, even to fix a problem as daunting as high college costs.

But the colleges say that, for them, competition has resulted in prices going up, not down. That’s because of a self-destructive cycle in which they vie for students by offering bigger and bigger discounts they can’t afford — including to families that may not need them. This pushes up the sticker price for everybody else, shifts money away from students who need it most and threatens the survival of the smallest and most heavily tuition-dependent private schools.

If they could talk to each other, leaders of these private colleges say, they could rein in those discounts. And that would free up money to lower tuition, give more financial aid to students who need it and liberate the institutions from catastrophic bidding wars that are costing them record amounts of money...

“It’s a harder case for schools to say they want to cut discounts to avoid the bidding war if there are people who are benefiting from it,” said Jennifer Dowdell Armstrong, an attorney at the firm McDonald Hopkins in Cleveland, who specializes in antitrust law.

Click here to read the entire article in The Washington Post.

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