Why has college gotten so expensive in the last 30 years? Probably because the government handed them a blank check in 1993.


The acceleration in tuition costs in the past 30 years has a surprisingly simple origin, mostly stemming from the  “); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px); background-repeat: repeat no-repeat”>Student Loan Reform Act of 1993.

Student Loan Reform Act of 1993 — Amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) to replace the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, under which loans made by private lenders are guaranteed by the Government, with a Federal Direct Student Loan Program, over a four-year transition period.

Up until 1993, the federal government merely guaranteed/backed student loans that private lenders gave. This meant that only in the case of someone defaulting on their loan would the government be on the hook, stepping in and paying the college what’s owed.

This amendment completely overhauled that system, making it so that for the vast majority of student loans, the federal government directly made the loans to students. More specifically, the federal government pays the universities/colleges up front, and the student then owes the government that money.

This represented a large shift in the alignment of incentives. When the loans come from the federal gov, there’s much less pressure on schools to compete on price. This is especially true since “increasing max student loan size => making college more accessible to everyone” is a political argument that both major parties benefit from in terms of optics.