December 7, 2011

Leaders of U.S. colleges and universities welcome Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s call for a national conversation about college costs [“High education,” editorial, Dec. 2]. For that conversation to be productive, however, two points must be emphasized.

First, the public should not underestimate the impact of states walking away from their responsibility to fund public higher education. Some 80 percent of college students attend public colleges and universities. When states impose draconian funding cuts on their institutions, as they have in recent years, they force tuitions up.

Second, we must do away with one of the most persistent and pernicious myths of higher education: that increases in federal aid drive up the cost of college. Several studies, including two by the Education Department, show there is no link between federal student aid and tuition increases. But there are still those who would have people believe that modest increases in student aid programs are the driving force behind institutions’ decisions about tuition and fees.

College can be expensive, and there’s more that all parties involved can do to help make it more affordable for students and families. The Post has the responsibility to help, too, by providing all the relevant information about this complex and important issue.

Terry W. Hartle, Washington

The writer is senior vice president of the American Council on Education.

●Education Secretary Arne Duncan is correct that much higher education spending is connected only remotely to the core mission of educating students. This is evident from the statistics The Post publishes each year showing the number of employees and students at our local universities.

In 2010, for example, the University of Maryland at College Park had 31,936 full-time students and 10,283 full-time employees, a ratio of about one employee for every three students, according to The Post’s report. This cannot be an appropriate model for educating students at a reasonable cost.

Bob Benna, Potomac