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How to Put College Back Within Reach

Finally, reallocate the freed-up subsidy dollars to scholarships for new undergraduate and graduate students. The scholarships, valid at any accredited four-year college in the state, would go primarily to middle- and low-income students, with some reserved for engineering majors, math teachers and other groups that meet state needs.

Consider the consequences of this change:

Middle- and low-income students' degree costs would significantly decrease; others would pay a larger share of their college costs.

Universities and colleges would scramble to attract scholarship-holding students. Students would choose schools that offered them the highest-quality programs, the most value and a competitive tuition. Colleges that lost market share would either improve their offerings, lower their prices or risk going out of business.

Lacking an automatic pricing advantage, formerly public colleges would raise tuition to make up their revenue shortfall, but no more than the market would allow.

Competition would force campuses to become increasingly lean, efficient and strategic.

With social forces driving higher education irreversibly toward privatization, Secretary Spellings's commission should focus on smoothing the transition. Doing so creatively would not only ameliorate the college affordability problem but would also advance the fairness and social good that lie at the heart of a stable democracy.

The writer is president of Miami University in Ohio.

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