Students unable to attend know real cost of high tuition

For Thomas Hundley and his middle-class family, a college education has become an elusive luxury.

Hundley, 22, of Cherry Hill, N.J. could be a poster child for President Obama’s latest effort to curb soaring tuition costs that put a college degree out of reach for many. A political science major at Howard University in Washington, Hundley missed his senior year last year after a desperately needed $25,000 student loan was denied.

“I never thought I would have to stop going to school,” Hundley said in an interview. “It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Like countless American parents, Hundley’s widowed mother, a medical administrator, has struggled to put two children through college. Hundley’s younger sister attends Seton Hall University, and the family’s finances have been stretched thin.

The rising cost of higher education has forced some students and families to abandon college altogether, even though they know it’s the clearest path to prosperity. Last year, the average cost of tuition and fees at public, four-year colleges was $8,600, while private colleges cost an average of $29,000.

Hundley hopes the plan recently announced by the president will provide relief to middle-class families like his. Obama wants to rate the nation’s schools and hold them accountable for their performance. Beginning in the fall of 2015, colleges would be evaluated on criteria such as average tuition, enrollment of low-income students, and student debt incurred. Those that do well would get more federal aid.

Obama also wants the government to provide larger Pell grants and lower-interest loans to needy students.

Obama has the right idea in that the federal government cannot continue its massive subsidies of higher education without measuring results. A rating system would also arm prospective students and their parents with better information about colleges and their costs.

Much of the Obama plan requires legislation, which will likely be a tough sell in Congress. But making college more affordable should be a bipartisan priority in a country that claims to value education.

Colleges, too, are undoubtedly concerned about the proposals. But they must recognize the need to cut costs and keep tuition down.

Change cannot come soon enough for Hundley, who hopes to return to Howard in January. He has been working for the past year as a legal assistant in a Cherry Hill law office to make money for his tuition, and his family and friends have raised about $5,000 in donations.

Even if he returns to school and graduates, Hundley estimates that he will emerge with at least $50,000 in debt. For now, though, he just wants that chance.