College-bound students and their parents have to dig a lot deeper to find tuition money these days. At the nation's major universities, tuition increases have surged past the inflation rate and are expected to be the largest in 30 years - many in double digits.
College loans are up, too, while higher-ed grants are down. Yet two-thirds of the country's high school students still say they plan to go to college.
The tuition-hike trend is nationwide - from the State University of New York system, which recently raised its tuition rate 28 percent, to the two California state systems, which are raising their rates 30 percent. (New Mexico managed to defy the national trend and increase spending on higher education by about 7 percent. But that was mostly due to a large uptick in enrollment.)
Yet states have too frequently turned to cutting higher-ed spending to offset the high costs of programs like prisons and healthcare.
Colleges should look at trimming more fat out of their budgets. That can include cutting faculty and staff positions, restructuring programs, and making better use of technology to cut costs.
Colleges also shouldn't play "follow the leader" on tuition hikes - some state universities appear to be raising tuition without making corresponding spending cuts.
The threat to opportunity for low-income and lower-middle-class students is clear: Higher education in the United States long has been a pre- requisite to getting a good job and a well-trodden path to the middle class.
States must increase aid and work-study programs to ensure that the price of admission doesn't preclude low-income students from obtaining a degree - or penalize lower-middle-class students with family incomes too high to qualify for aid.