With the US national election looming, Republicans in Congress are proposing to tie government aid for universities to their graduation rates.
It is one of several new proposals from both Republican and Democratic parties that put pressure on American universities to do a better job at a more reasonable price.
It also reflects the growing anger about access to higher education among key middle-class voters and an increasing unwillingness to accept universities' explanations for spiralling costs.
Republican members of a key congressional committee want to make government aid for universities contingent on their success at graduating students.
The proposal follows a report in June that found that 37 per cent of full-time students at four-year universities failed to graduate within six years. Among non-whites, more than half failed to graduate.
Congressman John Boehner, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said US universities "have been quick to demand billions in increased spending from the Federal Government but reluctant to address questions about the quality of the education being provided".
Mr Boehner added: "With tuition continuing to climb, America's higher education consumers are beginning to demand greater transparency in everything from the cost of a higher education to what they can expect to get out of that education."
University officials responded that the costs of tracking graduation rates would make a university education even more expensive.