As each week goes by in Washington, it becomes clearer that a legislative fix is unlikely to solve the college-cost conundrum.
Not only are legislators distracted by pressing issues such as hurricane relief, the war on terror and the latest Supreme Court nominee, they appear to have quietly determined that there are other ways to address college costs besides the use of a big stick from Congress.
Now that is not to say that the college cost issue has gone away.
To the contrary, hardly a week goes by without some member of Congress speaking out on the high cost of college, and proposing various remedies.
But talk is cheap, only worth the cost of the Congressional Record paper it is printed upon or the public service airtime that it chews up on C-SPAN.
When a backbencher from South Succotash spouts off on college costs, and suggests that schools rein in their high prices, his or her rant may get coverage in the South Succotash media, but it is unlikely to have a real impact in the debate on Capitol Hill.
The reality of the college-cost debate is that both sides are stuck. They are stuck in neutral, without a real philosophical direction to head for, and without a legislative vehicle to get there anyway.
Meanwhile, life goes on. Thanks to the baby-boom echo, and the realization by today’s parents of the importance of a college education, a greater number of high school students each year decide to apply to and attend a four-year college or university.
And as I’ve written previously, this simple, raw demand puts upward pressure on college costs, as some schools realize that, no matter what they charge as a sticker price, they will have the bodies to fill their classrooms and residence halls.
So since I have painted a pretty bleak picture, now what?
There is some legislative action in Washington, but it actually has more to do with how to help students and their families to meet the high cost of college, rather than addressing the core issue of the cost itself.
So student aid dollars are in focus, student loan policies are in debate and college-cost-related tax polices are on the table.
Since politics is the art of the possible, it is only sensible that we at College Parents of America concentrate, at least in the short-term, on those areas where action is indeed possible over this session of Congress.
This means that we will continue our drumbeat on the importance of extending and expanding the ability to deduct at least some portion of college tuition and related expenses.
It also means that we will continue to advocate for more family friendly education loan policies, pushing for an elimination of the origination fee on student loans and for raising the amount that a student can borrow under the federal loan program, thereby beginning to stem at least a bit of the demand for higher priced – and riskier – private-loan alternatives.
And it means that we will continue to support the Student Aid Alliance, a coalition of a number of higher education groups in Washington who are pushing for a dramatic increase in Pell Grant funding, and for continued support of many other tried and proven college access programs that have benefited from or been created through the provision of federal dollars.
I certainly wish that I had a magic bullet for solving the college cost conundrum and I will continue to strive to find one. With your help and support, and with the support of a growing number of your peers, my job will be that much easier.
Policymakers know that there are a lot of current and future college parents out there. Your membership in our organization gives us – and thereby you – greater political clout. Please tell your family members and friends about our organization, and encourage them to join. The larger our membership rolls become, the louder – and more effective – our voice will be in Washington.