A study from one of America's most prestigious universities could explain why college is so expensive

College tuition is undeniably soaring in America, and higher education experts blame an array of factors — from decreased state spending on colleges to the increasing demand for a college education in the US.

But a recent study commissioned by Vanderbilt University points to a different explanation for skyrocketing tuition: federal regulations.

The study looked at 13 institutions of higher education and the time and money they spend on complying with federal regulations.

It found that compliance with these regulations contributes to 3% to 11% of non-hospital operating expenses, and that faculty spend 4% to 15% of their time complying with federal regulations.

“We must truly come to grips with the reality of how federal regulation impacts our bottom line,” Thomas W. Ross, president of the University of North Carolina system, told the Vanderbilt news.

The University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill was one of the 13 schools that participated in the study.

The colleges and universities involved in the study were a diverse mix of different schools, from small private to large and public.

“We undertook this research to more fully understand one of the most important variables in our overall costs — complying with federal regulations,” Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, who commissioned the study, said.

Vanderbilt University CampusVia Wikimedia CommonsVanderbilt University

While it’s certainly important to understand all of the variables that go into the higher education sector’s budget, as it eventually trickles down to students and families, Vanderbilt’s commissioning of the study isn’t entirely altruistic.

It would likely welcome diminished federal regulations at the school.

As such, it’s important to understand that there are a number of different factors that higher education experts point to in explaining why college tuition has ballooned in recent years.

One explanation for the trend is that students, rather than state governments, are absorbing more of the costs of college.

A report published earlier this year from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that a majority of states have drastically cut spending on higher education since the recession. That report identifies the collateral damage of these cuts — students and families who must pay more tuition.

Colleges have also seen an enormous uptick in enrollment between 1980 and 2012.

Growing college enrollment contributes to increased costs in two ways. It necessitates the hiring of more administrative staff, which can be costly. It also normally means that the expenditures, from state and federal government, per student is lower, again placing the burden of tuition and fees on students and families.

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