Science & Tech

Federal tax credits for higher education fail to increase enrollment and access to college

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Tax credits’ goals not achieved

An analysis conducted by Harvard Graduate School of Education Assistant Professor Bridget Terry Long suggests that tax credits encouraged many states to increase the prices of public colleges where students were the greatest beneficiaries. Long’s study finds no evidence of increased college enrollment among students eligible for federal tax credits, despite the tax credit’s primary purpose to increase access to higher education. Long analyzed three years of data from the Internal Revenue Service to determine who benefited the most from the federal government introduction in 1997 of the progressive HOPE and Lifetime Learning Tax Credits. The findings document the importance of considering how a federal program affects the behavior of states and institutions in ways that might undermine the original policy. Long’s study, “The Impact of Federal Tax Credits for Higher Education Expenses,” was prepared for the forthcoming National Bureau of Economic Research volume College Decisions: How Students Actually Make Them and How They Could (University of Chicago Press, summer 2004).