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Three Fs: Food, Frats, and Facilities

Considering Government-Funded Tuition
by Fawn Johnson
National Journal
May 7, 2012

It should come as no surprise that the sleeper issue of student loan interest rates took on a life of its own as soon as President Obama began touting it. People are worried about paying for college. Tuition has more than doubled over the past 20 years, and Pell Grants are offsetting the lowest share of college costs in history.

Maybe it’s time for the government–state, local, even federal–to step up and pay. Obama hinted at this concept last Friday. “Some of it is not actually the fault of the universities,” he told a group of students and parents. “If it’s a state school, the state legislatures across the country have been cutting back on the support for public colleges and universities.”

Need-based student loans, which are set to double on July 1, are just the jumping off point for a broader conversation about college costs. As I wrote in National Journal last week, a typical financing plan for a low-income student includes a Pell Grant, a subsidized loan, and often a supplementary unsubsidized loan. Some colleges reduce tuition based on a student’s financial need, but state budget cuts have hurt public universities so much that those scholarships barely help.

There are a host of tax breaks aimed at helping middle-class families pay for college, but a recent report from the Education Sector notes that tuition tax breaks in recent years have gone to households with much higher incomes. Maybe it’s time to let those tax breaks go and use the money for Pell Grants, the paper provocatively argues.

Student loan interest rates or Pell Grant levels only dance around the heart of the problem–tuition is rising and wages are stagnant. If higher education is truly a priority for the country, should the taxpayers commit to making

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