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March 20 Janus Forum Debate: Does Federal Financial Aid Make College More or Less Affordable?

Over the last ten years, inflation-adjusted tuition at the nation's colleges and universities rose by 72 percent, with Vermont seeing a “mere” 33 percent increase. Median family income stagnated over the period, increasing only two percent. To compensate, presumably, federal expenditures on student loans and grants more than tripled.

But did the increase in federal financial aid help low- and middle-income families pay for college? Or, paradoxically, did it make college less affordable, by encouraging institutions of higher education to raise their prices?

Two experts will debate these questions in the next installment of UVM's Janus Forum. The debate, "Does Federal Support for Higher Education Make College More or Less Affordable?," will take place Tuesday, March 20 at 4 p.m. in the Davis Center's Silver Maple Ballroom.

"Like health care, prices are rising rapidly for higher education because of the predominant role of third-party payments," writes Richard Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University, in an opinion piece on CNN.com, co-written with Matthew Denhart. "When someone else is paying a lot of the bills, students are less sensitive to the price, thus allowing the colleges to care less about keeping prices under control."

Vedder, author of the books The American Economy in Historical Perspective and, with Lowell Gallaway, Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America, will debate Robert Archibald, Chancellor Professor of Economics at the College of William and Mary.

Archibald is author of two books on the subject of higher education costs: Redesigning the Financial Aid System: Why Colleges and Universities Should Switch Roles with the Federal Government (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) and Why Does College Cost So Much? (Oxford University Press, 2010), co-authored with David Feldman.

In a Q&A with the New York Times, Archibald ties the rapidly rising costs of higher education to slow productivity growth for services and increasing wages for highly educated workers over the past quarter century. He goes on to argue that a simplified and universal financial aid system could be an important tool in improving access to higher education.

Emerson Lynn, editor and publisher of the St. Albans Messenger, will moderate.

The Janus Forum debate series was founded by James Gatti, a finance professor in UVM's School of Business Administration; Arthur Woolf, an economics professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Richard Vanden Bergh, also of the School of Business Administration.

"The goal of the debate series is to examine the important and controversial policy issues of the day and to challenge individuals to reexamine their views in the light of well articulated contrary positions," Gatti said. "People who have a strongly held position on an issue sometimes dismiss opposing points of view out of hand. We want to expose the audience to vigorous arguments on both sides of the debate."

The forum is free and open to the public, and a reception will immediately follow in the Livak Fireplace Lounge. Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations should call Conference and Events as soon as possible at (820) 656-5665.

Information: (802) 656-0190.