For the first time since the Social Security system was established, it looks like there might be meaningful reform.

Is it also time for college tuition reform?

Am I suggesting pouring more money into Pell grants and other financial support for worthy students? Quite the contrary.

Columnist Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe suggests today that government programs designed to help people afford college may, in fact, be the root cause of skyrocketing college tuition.

In addition to Pell Grants, Jacoby notes, there are Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity grants and Federal Work-Study jobs, as well as Perkins Loans, Family Education Loans, Direct Student Loans, and Stafford (or Guaranteed) Student Loans. Jacoby reports that the price tag for all these grants and others to supposedly help worthy students will amount to more than $73 billion this year. There are also tuition credits and deductions included in the tax code.

Maybe we’d be better off with less “help” from Uncle Sam:
“And the result of this energetic government campaign to hold down the cost of a college education? The cost of a college education is skyrocketing — and has been for years.

“Tuition and fees were up 10.5 percent at state colleges and universities last year. The year before that, they were up 14 percent. Every year for nearly a quarter-century — since before most of today’s college students were born — higher education costs have raced ahead of inflation. And far from slowing this runaway train, government aid serves only to stoke the engine.

“How could it do otherwise? Every dollar that Washington generates in student aid is another dollar that colleges and universities have an incentive to harvest, either by raising their sticker price or reducing the financial aid they offer from their own funds. Higher Education Act funds ’are seen by colleges and universities as money that is there for the taking,’ observes Peter Wood, a professor at Boston University. ’Tuition is set high enough to capture those funds and whatever else we think can be extracted from parents. Perhaps there are college administrators who don’t see federal student aid in quite this way, but I haven’t met them.’ In 10 years of attending committee meetings on the university’s annual tuition adjustment, says Wood, ’the only real question was, “How much can we get away with?”’”