Tuition soars as students face tough financial times

Ironically, as we load ever more debt on our children and grandchildren, the chances of them being able to land good jobs to pay off those debts diminish.

That's because the best-paying jobs go to college graduates and the cost of education continues to climb with little restraint.

Our colleges are still filled to capacity, but it's getting tougher everywhere -- including Washington -- to meet the costs of putting a freshman through the college front door.

And tuition is going up. Again.

Nationally, with the Treasury Department expecting to hit the government's debt ceiling by the end of February, Congress has voted to raise the limit from its current level of $12.4 trillion to $14.3 trillion. The Associated Press says that would equal about $45,000 for each American.

That's on top of what we owe in our personal lives. For a growing number of Americans, that includes the college loans so necessary to completing an education these days.

Tuition at state colleges is jumping another 14 percent. At the University of Washington, tuition and fees are expected to pass $9,000 by the 2010-11 school year.

In our state, the tuition increases may also be combined with cuts in available financial aid.

The College Board, a not-for-profit membership association that oversees the SATs and Advanced Placement tests, says families nationwide are paying from $172 to $1,096 more in tuition and fees this school year.

That brings the national average for tuition for 2009-10 to $7,020, not including room and board.

In Pullman last week, more than 100 students attended a rally to protest tuition increases and budget cuts. In California, tuition increases of more than 30 percent have sparked protests said to be reminiscent of the 1960s.

Average tuition at private colleges rose 4.4 percent, up $1,096 to $26,273, according to the board.

Thanks to the GI Bill, obtaining a college degree became a ticket to the middle class for a generation of Americans after World War II.

By the millions, young Americans post-World War II got their degrees and prospered in the boom times that followed, a boom largely generated by those very grads.

Once again we are approaching the season when bright young high school students, eager to take on the world, send out their application letters to colleges across America -- their first choice, their "safety" school and perhaps others.

Mom and Dad typically welcome the opportunities even as they cringe at the bills to come.

The kids set out, some able to go only by having jobs while at college (which may be character building but is rarely any help with the grades).

Job or not, most college students also must borrow heavily to finance their education. The average graduate of a four-year university owed $23,200 in 2008, according to the Project on Student Debt. That number is growing by about 6 percent a year.

It's going to take some smart people to find the way out of this mess.

Too bad the soaring costs of higher education threaten to shrink the talent pool even as the need for answers grows.