So where does the buck stop? The answer we're looking for, at least in part, might just be sitting on Capitol Hill.
"It looks in many ways that the current aid structure is missing the mark," says Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), a former community college president and current chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education. "The Subcommittee on Higher Education has met several times to begin the re-authorization process for the Higher Education Act."
The Higher Education Act of 1965, in its original form, intended to "strengthen the educational resources for colleges and universities through financial aid". On average, congressional re-authorization happens about every five years, and the current re-authorization is set to expire at the end of 2013. But, as Foxx points out, this time around, deeper changes are needed.
"The cost of tuition at many schools has gone beyond inflation," adds Foxx. "Some experts think that increase in federal financial aid are driving up the cost of tuition."
Two of the groundbreaking ideas Congress is considering include 1) lowering the amount of federal loans students can borrow based on the kind of program they are enrolled in, and 2) establishing a database to monitor student progress. These two ideas, in theory, should cut down on the amount of college loan debt, and could potentially lower higher education prices.
"We'll explore opportunities to simplify and strengthen the current financial aid system to ensure that it's really working for students and tax payers," explains Foxx. "And we'll look for more...innovative, cost cutting teaching methods."
Now, these are just ideas. No deal is in sight yet., and given the recent legislative gridlock in D.C., Congress may not actually renew the law until President Obama's successor is in Oval.
Even with new measures in place, though, it will not solve the problem entirely. Students and parents have to shoulder the most of the responsibility. In the last five years, families went from paying 37 percent out of pocket to 27 percent, and it's driving debt. A stronger emphasis on saving for college needs to be reestablished, and it's very doable at every income level.
According to U.S. News and World Report, an investment of just $25 per month into a 529 Plan, which is a tax-advantaged college savings account, starting when a child is five, would accumulate to $6,300 over 13 years if the account earns an average of 7 percent per year. That's the equivalent of two years tuition at a community college according, to the American Association of Community Colleges.
If parents saved $100 per month over the same time period, with the same rate of growth, 7 percent, they would save $25,300. That would almost pay for three full years of tuition and fees at a public four year school or one year of tuition and fees at a private school. Even if you got a late start saving, you can still make quite a dent in your child's college costs...
Saving $25 per month for six years with a five percent annual growth rate will add up to $2,100. $100 per month would accumulate to $8,300.
[For more information on any of the above, as well as a quick video from experts on how to save for college, click HERE.]
We may see an answer to the rising cost of college tuition one day, but until then, take control, and leave school with bit more money in your pocket. After all, you're going to school to add to the quality of your life, not take away from it.
[Watch Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE & Part 3 HERE.]