‘Naming and shaming’ not swaying students on tuition

Federal data aimed at tuition transparency may be confusing to students, report finds
By: | July 16, 2020
Students' college enrollment decision have not been heavily influenced by the Department of Education tuition trackers. (GettyImages/Klaus Vedfelt)Students' college enrollment decision have not been heavily influenced by the Department of Education tuition trackers. (GettyImages/Klaus Vedfelt)

Lists published by the U.S. Department of Education tracking the largest college tuition increases have had little impact on pricing or student enrollment, a new study has found.

The federal College Affordability and Transparency Center, which was launched in 2011, publishes annual lists of institutions with the highest percentage changes in tuition and fees and average net price.

But such low-stakes, non-punitive federal accountability policies hold little value for students, said Dominique J. Baker, an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University and author of the American Educational Research Association study.

“This attempt by the federal government to hold colleges and universities accountable by ‘naming and shaming’ them does not appear to be effective at changing institutional or student behavior,” Baker said. “Many higher education observers have long questioned the value of these lists and expressed concerns about the ability of students and institutions to use the data.”


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The lists may even be confusing to students because the data rely on percentage increases rather than absolute dollar amount increases, Baker suggests.

Who made the tuition list?

The study found little difference in enrollment between colleges and universities that were included and not included on the lists between 2014 and 2017.

[VIDEO: Author Dominique Baker discuss study findings and implications]

“These policy efforts are built on the assumption that with the right information, potential students will be able to make better-informed choices,” Baker said. “However, the lists did not discourage students from attending institutions with larger increases in average net prices. And institutions did not modify their pricing.”

She points out that in 2017, Carver Bible College made the list but Loyola University Chicago did. However, Carver’s tuition and fees for 2015–2016 were $9,860 compared to $40,426 at Loyola.


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The only penalty for making the list—additional paperwork explaining the increase—does not create enough negative attention to influence the tuition decisions of college and university administrations, she added.

The study suggests that Congress revise or eliminate the program.

“With the United States now in a recession, it is likely that more students and their families will struggle with affording college in the fall,” Baker said. “The federal government has to be concerned with finding ways to ensure that institutions remain or become more affordable.”