120511 student fee
University of California students protest on campus in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement November 15, 2011 in Berkeley, Calif. A main point of complaint among the students is the rising cost of tuition. - 

Steve Chiotakis: Meanwhile, President Obama meets at the White House today with a small group of university and college presidents on how to reduce the cost of higher education. But what can the president -- or the federal government for that matter --actually do to force college tuition down?

Here's Marketplace's Steve Henn.

Steve Henn: Well... not much. Maybe a stern lecture, some embarrassment.

But David Breneman, a economics professor at the University of Virginia says colleges themselves could do a lot to reduce tuition and preserve quality education -- if that becomes a priority.

David Breneman: Most college president are hired for their supposed ability to raise revenue, not manage costs down.

Breneman is a former college president himself. He says cutting costs is tough: it creates fights.

Breneman: Frankly, if there is any hope of getting costs under control it's going to come from some form of technology involvement.

This semester at Stanford, professor Peter Norvig tried an experiment. He opened up his class to anyone online -- for free.

Peter Norvig: Maybe we'll get 10,000 people. And I said, "Nahh."

In the end 140,000 students from all over the world signed up. Norvig hopes this is just the beginning of what tech can do in higher ed. Maybe more paying students could lead to lower prices.

In Silicon Valley, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.