Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos says colleges and universities must cut costs so they can reduce tuition, but he also noted the public has a "misconception" that higher education is unaffordable.

Cavazos released three reports Monday on the costs of higher education, including a handbook called "Tough Choices" to help colleges examine priorities and devise spending controls.College tuition has risen much faster than the rate of inflation.

Between 1975 and 1987, inflation-adjusted tuition grew 28 percent at public colleges and 44 percent at private colleges, the department said. In the fall of 1990, average college tuitions rose about 8 percent at most institutions.

While student financial aid grew faster than inflation during the 1980s, it did not keep pace with tuition increases, the department said.

"It is now time for individual colleges and universities to ask hard questions, set strict limits and start making tough choices," said Cavazos .

He said these choices could mean dropping an entire department, for-going recruitment of high-priced researchers or eliminating athletics.