Discussion paper

DP5011 Efficient Tuition & Fees, Examinations and Subsidies

A student's future log-wage is given by the sum of a skill premium and a random personal ?ability? term. Students observe only a private, noisy signal of their ability, and universities can condition admission decisions on the results of noisy tests. We assume first that universities are maximizing social surplus, and contrast the results with those obtained when they maximize rents. If capital markets are perfect, and if test results are public knowledge, then, there is no sorting on the basis of test scores. Students optimally self-select as a result of pricing only. In the absence of externalities generated by an individual's higher education, the optimal tuition is then greater than the university's marginal cost. If capital markets are perfect but asymmetries of information are bilateral, i.e., if universities observe a private signal of each student's ability, or if there are borrowing constraints, then, the optimal policy involves a mix of pricing and pre-entry selection based on the university's private information. Optimal tuition can then be set below marginal cost, and can even become negative, if the precision of the university's private assessment of students' abilities is high enough.


Gary-Bobo, R and A TRANNOY (2005), ‘DP5011 Efficient Tuition & Fees, Examinations and Subsidies‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 5011. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp5011