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Volume 70, Issue 43, Thursday, October 21, 2004

Opinion
 

Staff Editorial


EDITORIAL BOARD

                            Matt Dulin                             Tony Hernandez 
                Jim Parsons             Dusti Rhodes           Richard Whitrock


Higher education comes at a higher cost

While states trim higher education budgets and allow modest increases, if any, to student aid programs, students are becoming more reliant on private loans and personal debt to cover one of the most important investments of their lives.

A recent College Board study shows that the trend of increasing college enrollment, which made its largest leaps in the last 10 years, is showing no signs of leveling. What's compounding this problem, though, is that grant and aid programs aren't keeping pace. 

For instance, while more students are benefiting from Pell grants, the average payout covers about half of the cost of education at a four-year public university. In Texas, a program to give grants to needy students who took rigorous college prep courses in high school has dwindled from a promising $4 million in funds to a paltry $700,000. 

Of the more than $105 billion in financial aid distributed last year, $42 billion came from grant programs. The rest is made up of scholarships and other aid ? primarily loans. The College Board did not speculate as to how much students were taking out in private loans, but it did estimate that about one-fourth of students are putting college costs on credit cards.

As students take out more private loans, they take a measured risk, banking on the promise that a college degree will improve their future earning power in the workplace. Certainly, in today's economy, it would cost more to not go to college. Striking a balance between cost and accessibility has always been a problem.

But states can't realistically permit universities to hike tuition and fees ? we're seeing the highest in at least a decade ? without giving broad support to grant and aid programs. If the trend continues, higher education could revert to an elitist institution rather than the conduit for socioeconomic mobility it has become. 

The nation's students deserve more of an investment from the state, not excuses about the bottom line.
 

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