Ninety-two percent of Americans agree that college tuition is too expensive, a free-market think tank found, but why is it so costly?

A report authored by the American Action Forum’s Sam Batkins and Chad Miller indicates that the rising level of regulatory paperwork burdens placed on postsecondary institutions may be one of the leading causes behind the past decade’s tuition hikes.

According to the study, the Department of Education creates 85 million hours of paperwork dealing with 465 federal education forms — including 120 forms related to postsecondary education.

The largest chunk of paperwork requirements stem from financial aid applications — or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The various forms affiliated with FAFSA accumulate into an annual 26.1 million burden hours — 31 percent of the Department of Education’s total.

These regulatory obligations leave higher education institutions little choice but to ramp up administrative staff, which comes with a hefty price tag.

But like other federal agencies, the Department of Education does not calculate the monetary costs of its paperwork, so the actual dollar burden can only be estimated.

By taking the mean wage of a regulatory compliance officer ($32.10 per hour) and the agency’s 85 million hours of paperwork, AFF projected that the dollar burden exceeds $2.7 billion annually.

The authors explained in the report that the administrative teams at postsecondary institutions grew as the paperwork obligations climbed.

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