College administrators, representative discuss college affordability

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Four college administrators and a U.S. representative discussed ways to control the cost of college.

Guy Bailey, president of UT Rio Grande Valley, Gregory Fenves, president of UT-Austin, Renu Khator, chancellor of the University of Houston System and president of the University of Houston and U.S. Representative Eddie Johnson (D-Texas) spoke on the panel “Price vs. Cost. vs. Value” at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday.

Johnson said education is an investment that allows individuals to become self-sufficient and not rely on government welfare.

“It is much less expensive to educate than to incarcerate,” Johnson said. “If they’re not educated and don’t have a skill, we still have to take care of them. That’s when you get more money spent in Medicaid or whatever programs you have. The only way you can diminish those programs is to give the young people some type of work or skills to take care of themselves.”

Fenves said finishing college on time is just as important, as tuition rates or other affordability issues.

“When I came to Texas seven years ago, I was shocked by the low graduation rates,” Fenves said. “We should be designing our curriculum to be completed in four years, making sure services are there for students to get the help that they need. The best way to control the cost of higher education is to keep a four-year degree from becoming a five-year degree.”

Khator said lower costs must not decrease the quality of education.

“You need to have education accessible for as many people as possible,” Khator said. “At the same time, you need to have that excellence that is the absolute best in the world that you can have. We do not want to settle for mediocre.”

According to Khator, college should be seen as a collective good, not just an individual benefit.

“It would be absolutely wonderful if we treated education or a college degree as a common good,” Khator said. “It’s good for society and therefore, society should invest in it.”