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Editorial: Bring college costs down

Middle America — people with only high school diplomas — is sinking badly in the new Information Age. Jobs and pay have retreated so much that high-school-only young folks hardly can afford to raise families, so their marriage rate is declining.

College and other advanced training are crucial for successful life in the new high-tech culture. America can’t thrive without an abundance of well-educated workers. But university costs have soared like a rocket, raising alarm that only rich families may be able to send their children. Others who attend can be saddled with ruinous student loans.

President Obama is crusading to make college affordable and keep the high-tech economy humming. Last year, he unveiled a sweeping plan to make federal education aid available only to genuine schools that produce real graduates with real careers.

The U.S. government spends $150 billion yearly for student aid. Too much of it has been gobbled by for-profit schools that recruit marginal students who incur huge loans. The schools pocket the loan money. Many of the students flunk out, remaining stuck with no degrees and unpayable loan debt.

Obama proposed cutting off federal student aid to schools that don’t lower tuition cost, don’t produce a high rate of graduates, and don’t place those graduates in good careers. The administration launched an online scorecard showing which schools excel and flop. A White House aide told The New York Times:

“It’s important to us that colleges offer good value for their tuition dollars, and that higher education offers families a degree of security so students aren’t left with debt they can’t pay back.”

The administration began pushing MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other innovations to reduce college costs. We hope this effort succeeds, because millions of young Americans need a chance to study and enter middle-class careers.

Unfortunately, bitter political stalemate in Congress has blocked progress on Obama’s reform. Any helpful proposal by the Democratic White House or Democrat-controlled Senate usually faces defeat in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin champions bipartisan teamwork. Despite his low success rate, we hope that he and other West Virginians in Congress will strive for cooperation on a national effort to make real college education possible for millions more young Americans.

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