Over at Remaking the University, Chris Newfield posted the text of the letter, annotated with his critical comments. It's pretty devastating. Here's a highlight:
Contrary to public perception, all the evidence suggests that that higher tuition is not a barrier for students—including low-income and minority students—as long as it is combined with adequate financial aid.
So you all agreed? Sadly, you all are wrong. During the twenty years that states have been shifting university costs from the taxpayer to the student, relative degree attainment has declined, continuation rates are flat or falling, and the US has completely destroyed its international educational advantage. For the first time in its history, younger people are less educated than their baby-boomer parents (p 10). The proportion of U.S. students starting college who actually finish is now 56 percent, placing the U.S. with its world's highest tuition levels twenty-ninth out of the thirty countries measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Tuition increases have degraded affordability and reduced attainment (p 8). California, one of the world’s wealthiest places, has seen one of the most astonishing declines in college achievement. The state’s continuation fell from 66 percent to 44 percent in just eight years (1996-2004). California’s rank among states in investment in higher education declined during the same period from fifth to forty-seventh, according to Thomas Mortenson, a higher education policy analyst (ibid). The idea that financial aid protects low-income students is a myth, one that dies a thousand deaths in an exacting study of a unique public university data base, William G. Bowen et al's Crossing the Finish LIne, which shows that low-income students borrow more than higher-income students and increase their borrowing with each ongoing year in college, among other disturbing findings.
And so on--there is no evidence that non-debt aid keeps up with tuition increases, or that further hikes won't futher damage overall US educational levels, the improvement of which is the main reason why public higher ed was built out in the first place. All we see here is a group of former chancellors radiating an indecent complacency about access, one that is out of touch with current research about the damage done to educational attainment by the Great Cost Shift to students.