How The Government Could Substantially Lessen The Cost Of College But Refuses To

Recently, in an extremely relatable stand-up performance, a famous comedian appeared on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" to talk about the insanity of paying for his kids to go to college.

When he revealed the lengths he'd go to in order to avoid doing so, he likely captured the frustrations of many American parents who are fed up with the out-of-control costs of higher education.

"She had to take a test and pass it before I wrote the check. I offered her a $4,000 dollar bonus to fail the exam. That's the first time she didn't listen to me... I don't like her anymore," he said.

The point he was getting to was clear. It is, indeed, downright crazy how expensive a college education has become.

Oh, did I say Jimmy Fallon? What I meant to say was "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." That's right, by recently I meant 1983. The comedian? Bill Cosby.

Fast forward more than 30 years and a problem that has transcended generations is still plaguing parents and students alike, but at a much more alarming rate.

The statistic is as damning as it is famous: Around 50 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or under-employed in the US.

It's a figure that only exacerbates the issue facing most students. Not only is the cost of chasing a college degree rising, but finding the jobs that will adequately help pay off those costs is no guarantee.

In their deepest moments of frustration with the cost of tuition, which has risen faster than the rate of inflation for years, students will ask why.

Why does getting an education cost so much? Why does doing the right thing lead to so much wrong? After all, incurring huge amounts of debt is, by all means, wrong.

The answer is likely to be highly complex and complicated, one that takes into account a whole bunch of factors. It comes down to more than just "college is a business," although that theory rightly antagonizes those who are responsible for allowing things to even get to this point.

There is, however, one factor behind the cost of college that is easier to point out and break down more than most. Last week, it was discussed in an opinionated editorial in the New York Times:

"Weeks after submitting their Fafsa to the federal Department of Education, families are told what their expected contribution is," wrote Steve Cohen for the Times. "The formula itself is set by Congress. For most middle-class families, the number is shocking because it has little basis in real-life economics."

For those students who have ever been shocked by their financial aid statements and moved enough to dispute it with their schools' student accounting offices, they will know the expected family contribution Cohen speaks of as simply "EFC," the be-all-end-all figure of financial aid.

Once schools received an EFC, they deduct it from tuition statements and arrive at the amount students are eligible for in financial assistance.

The problem with this policy, as Cohen points out, is: 1) EFCs are so unrealistic and more often than not come up with a number that families can't pay, and 2) Thus leaves students with inadequate amounts of financial aid.

The impact, furthermore, is felt most by middle-class families who are caught in a terrible middle ground: wealthy enough to not be eligible for grants but not wealthy enough to afford the costs of tuition.

That essentially means more loans have to be taken out by students, while colleges can escape having to help them out, hiding behind EFCs in the process.

“The EFC gives colleges ‘plausible deniability,’” Cohen was told by Scott Farber, president of A-List Education, a tutoring and education consulting company. “It allows them to say, ‘We didn’t set these family contribution figures; the government did.’ That artificially high EFC is essentially creating an artificial price support for colleges.”

Because of Congress' unrealistic standards, more and more students are left having to take out substantial federal loan packages, which only means more interest payments that find their way back to the nation's capital.

Therefore meaning the government has gone out of its way to screw students out of receiving financial aid? Far be it by this writer to definitely say so. Either way, the collective $1.2 trillion in education-based debt for the US is higher than the national amount of credit debt.

The fact that Washington has allowed the mere act of going to college to become more financially irresponsible than frivolously wielding credits cards is a true disgrace.

Politicians have talked and talked, usually around election time, about redeeming themselves on that front and doing something to make college more affordable. But if our elected leaders really want to do anything about it, they'll begin with their own dubious family contribution estimations, first.

"Since Congress controls the EFC formula, it makes sense for political leaders who are serious about controlling college costs and student debt to start by making the EFC more realistic," Cohen said. "...Doing so would force colleges to construct financial aid packages without the artificial price supports of inflated contribution numbers — and make paying for college less agonizing."

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