Since September 2003, with your support, I have been steering College Parents of America’s advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., supporting legislation and rule-making that reduces the complexity of the education planning process and makes college more affordable for families. If your family members, friends and neighbors can be convinced to join you as a member of our organization, then our advocacy efforts can become even more effective, as they will be “on behalf of” an even greater number of people.

With that in mind, and with the holidays approaching, I provide the following Q&A, which you can feel free to use as your “script” when talking to others over a glass of holiday cheer.

(Q) In a nutshell, what does College Parents of America do for American families? 
(A) I think of our group as the AARP for current and future college parents. We receive a mix of advocacy in Washington, timely information on college-related issues and access to deals and discounts on all the ancillary spending that a parent undertakes as part of the process of supporting their children in preparing for, applying to and financing college.

(Q) What education legislation issues that impact families are of greatest concern right now? 
(A) There are three pocketbook issues which are of greatest concern right now. They all involve ways to help families find options to meet the high cost of college.

The first is tuition tax deductibility, which is very modest right now and which expires at the end of tax year 2005 unless Congress acts. We support eliminating the sunset on tuition tax deductibility, so that families can depend with confidence on this benefit going forward. We also support an increase in the amount that can be deducted, from the current figure of $4000 per family per year to $11,300 per child per year, which is the current average annual cost of a four-year public college or university. Finally, we support the removal of the income ceiling on the ability to take advantage of this deduction.

The other two issues involve proposed improvements to the federal student loan and grant programs. For instance, we support an elimination of the origination fee on student loans and the ability to utilize Pell Grants during all 12 months of an academic year, as opposed to an artificial nine-month limit.

(Q) Since we can’t control legislation, what can parents do on their own to help their cause? 
(A) With regard to the issue of tuition tax deductibility, parents can sign our online petition, located on the home page of www.collegeparents.org. The more signatures we have, the more we can demonstrate to Congress that parents care about this issue. Parents can also help the cause by joining our organization, as the more members we have, the more clout we will have in Washington.

(Q) Tell me about some of College Parents plans over the next five years. 
(A) The five-year horizon is a good marker because the high school graduating class of 2010 will be the largest in U.S. history, larger even than any baby-boomer class. We hope to grow our membership and become an unstoppable political force in Washington. Going back to what I said when we started chatting, a dream of mine would be for the leadership of AARP to describe their organization in five years by saying, “Think of us as the College Parents of America for old people.”

Conclusion: Now you can see why I feel so strongly about the positive aspects of becoming a member of College Parents of America. I encourage you to visit their website at www.collegeparents.org to learn more about what College Parents is doing to help families like ours all across America.

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