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College Aid Is Corporate Welfare

May 22, 2012
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College Aid Is Corporate Welfare
Via @WalterOlson, Andrew G. Biggs writes at TheAtlantic.com, per recent econ research, that it seems that it’s the colleges that are truly benefiting from all that student loan money by jacking up their tuition:

In response to rising tuition costs, federal aid such as Pell Grants, work-study programs and tuition tax credits have more than tripled over the last decade, reaching $65 billion in 2011. Washington also made over $100 billion in subsidized student loans last year.

But is all this college aid actually making college more affordable? At first glance, the answer is obviously yes. But there’s an alternative story, in which colleges and universities can siphon off a portion of federal education dollars. Economists would term this a question of the “incidence” of federal aid, of who ultimately benefits from it.

The most obvious way that colleges might capture federal student aid is by raising tuition. Research to date has been inconclusive, but Stephanie Riegg Cellini of George Washington University and Claudia Goldin of Harvard have provided compelling new analysis. Cellini and Goldin looked at for-profit colleges, utilizing the key distinction that only some for-profit schools are eligible for federal aid. Riegg and Goldin find that that aid-eligible institutions “charge much higher tuition … across all states, samples, and specifications,” even when controlling for the content and quality of courses. The 75 percent difference in tuition between aid-eligible and ineligible for-profit colleges — an amount comparable to average per-student federal assistance — suggests that “institutions may indeed raise tuition to capture the maximum grant aid available.”

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