By Richard Vedder
University presidents have been salivating over one recommendation from the Spellings Commission -- a huge increase in Pell Grants. Engineered by former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, the Commission's recommendation has been widely praised as a means of increasing need-based aid.
According to Inside Higher Education, however, commission chair Charles Miller is making the point that the Pell Grant recommendation was conditional -- more Pell Grant money should be committed only if colleges show progress in constraining their tuition increases. Moreover, the Commission set a "benchmark" of trying to reduce tuition increases below the growth in family income (a provision that Yours Truly managed to get in the report). Charles Miller's interpretation is exactly the same as mine. The Commission is not calling for price controls, but rather is saying "if you do your job in taking cost containment, productivity enhancement, and efficiency seriously, we will increase Pell Grant assistance to students -- a double whammy in the direction of increasing student affordability."
Allow me this opportunity to say, as the Spellings Commission ends its formal mission, that Charles Miller has been an extraordinarily effective chair. Without his leadership, no report with any meaningful recommendations would have been approved. While the final report does not go far enough in my opinion, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction, a step that takes someone with Charles's leadership to pull off. Now we await tomorrow's response from the Administration to the commission report, and later the response of Congress and the Department of Education bureaucrats to this document.