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College cost: Racking students, families

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Students at West Virginia University and WVU-Tech at Montgomery must pay 5 percent more tuition this fall, atop a similar increase imposed last year. It's part of a relentless trend as hard-up states gradually shift higher education costs off taxpayers and onto students and their parents.

College remains the best ticket into the middle class -- and the best method to boost America's economy -- but it will be tragic if this opportunity becomes limited to rich families.

"Average tuition at public four-year colleges rose 73 percent from 1999 to 2009, even as median family income fell about 7 percent," The Christian Science Monitor reported last week. As a result, students incur ever-greater loan debt, now totaling $1 trillion.

The Obama White House is crusading to reduce college costs and help young people win good futures. Various shortcuts are being attempted, such as urging schools to offer inexpensive online courses. Federal student loans were removed from high-cost banks. And now Democrats in Congress are fighting to prevent loan interest from doubling in a couple of weeks.

In a University of Las Vegas address, President Obama told students:

"If Congress doesn't act by the end of this month, by July 1st, interest rates on federal student loans will double overnight.  . . . Last month, Democrats in the Senate put forward a plan that would have kept low rates in place, wouldn't have added a dime to the deficit. Senate Republicans got together, they blocked it. They said no. House Republicans voted to keep your rates down only if we agreed to cut things like preventive health care for women."

The president said Republicans in Congress "voted to give an average tax cut of at least $150,000 to every millionaire in America, but they want you to pay an extra $1,000 a year for college. It doesn't make any sense. It's wrong."

Obama repeated his warning Thursday to an assembly of college students in the East Room of the White House. He said it's a "no-brainer" for Congress to keep interest rates low, and urged Republicans to stop hindering that goal.

We hope West Virginia's members of Congress do everything they can to prevent student loan interest from doubling on July 1. Moreover, in the long run, we hope they support strategies to reverse escalating college cost, perhaps through use of cyber-teaching online.

Both West Virginia and America need more college-educated people. Soaring cost shouldn't restrict this privilege to wealthy families.


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