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Committee Says Colleges Are Gouging Consumers

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WASHINGTON--The nation's public colleges have steadily increased costs to students while at the same time reducing the availability of their most seasoned professors, a House panel charged last week.

The House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families issued a report that sternly rebukes the nation's higher-education system for gouging consumers and at the same time emphasizing research over teaching.

The panel's research found that a 141 percent increase in tuition and fees between 1980 and 1990 was charged to students at the same time that institutions' government aid and income from endowments and services were rising rapidly.

The tuition hike, more than twice the rate of inflation in the same period, bought little in the way of stronger instruction, the panel found.

The committee noted a trend among colleges to use inexperienced teaching assistants to lead large undergraduate classes while professors seek grants for research and outlets to air their findings.

"For the past several decades, there has been an expanding and concerted effort from within the public higher-education system to emulate the research-dominated model of higher education,'' says the committee's report, which goes on to question the intensity of the research that is keeping professors out of classrooms.

"The higher-education system in this country is at a crossroad,'' the report concludes. "Continue down the path to the detriment of those who most support the entire system, the undergraduates, or face the reality that the system can no longer afford to keep research in its preeminent position and relegate teaching to the status of an unwanted orphan.''

'Vitriolic' Report Faulted

Higher-education lobbyists responded sharply to the committee's attack on public colleges.

"I have no idea about their motivation,'' said James B. Appleberry, the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "But it is really unfortunate that at a time when higher-education institutions are grappling with such financial difficulties, this kind of one-sided, vitriolic report comes out.''

Mr. Appleberry said the committee failed to provide a full explanation for many of the price increases it criticized.

In the 1980's, higher education was expanded to serve more students, and at the same time found its mission stretched by policymakers to include such tasks as assisting in economic development, he said. Moreover, he noted, costs for faculty salaries, scientific equipment, and library books rose faster than inflation, while federal regulatory requirements increased.

Officials also pointed out that the report did not mention the major recession-related cuts leveled at state higher education since 1990.

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