Cost of College

TUITION and fees continue to rise at most public and private colleges in the United States, while the ability of prospective students and their parents to pay has been shrinking.

As the national economy shakes off its doldrums, the need will grow for new young professionals to fill the ranks of electronic whizes, engineers, business executives, and teachers. The young people who will be expected to fill those positions in coming years need to know, with greater surety than at present, that the education they are getting is of high quality and that it will not unduly strain family finances or unduly load graduates with debt.

It is heartening to note that a growing number of colleges and universities, public and private, are bucking the long-term trend of rising fees and tuition. Although few are lowering costs, many are trying hard to hold down tuition and fee increases.

Last fall, public college tuition fees went up an average of 12 to 13 percent. Their private counterparts averaged about half as much - 6 to 7 percent. The ante for tuition, fees, and room-and-board has been pushed to almost $10,000 a year at some public institutions.

Banks have long complained about the high default rate and the difficulty of collecting in the federal Guaranteed Student Loan Program. The latest idea is to have colleges and universities make the loans directly to students. After graduation, loan payments would be collected by the US Internal Revenue Service. Such a plan was recently passed by the Senate and approved by a House committee.

Officials of the banks that now hold many student loans have indicated disapproval of the new proposals, and President Bush has indicated he would veto them.

If colleges and universities can make the sacrifices necessary to put the lid on tuition costs, surely the Congress and White House can do their part for young Americans by agreeing on a better college-loan program.

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