The Issues: Paying For College

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CBS News continues an election-year series titled "What Does It Mean To You?" focused on where the presidential candidates stand on major issues and how a vote for one or the other candidate might affect average people's lives.

In this report, CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes looks at what the candidates propose to do about rising college tuition costs.

Working this summer at his high school alma mater in Inglewood, Calif., Honorio Franco is saving every dime. Several public universities accepted him but he opted for an expensive private school Northeastern University in Boston.

"I never looked at cost because I didn't want that to influence my decision," said Franco.

But when he opened his financial aid package, Franco learned that despite his mother's income of only $18,000 a year as a maid, he was still going to have to pay more than $12,000 a year for school. By the time Franco graduates, he'll have about $50,000 in debt.

"My mom is always telling me I could have gone to a cheaper school and wouldn't drown myself in debt, one of her favorite phrases. So she is extremely terrified," Franco says.

And it is exactly that fear of big debt that presidential candidate John Kerry is tapped into.

"We need to make it possible for families to send their children to school without breaking the bank," says Kerry on the campaign trail.

But Sen. Kerry's plan for financial aid doesn't help Franco. He chose a private school and Kerry's plan -- $50 billion paid for by tax increases – can only be applied to public college.

If a student gives two years of community service, Kerry says, "We are going to pay for their four-year public education."

If Franco were to get any more help paying tuition it would be from President Bush.

In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush said, "I propose more money for federal Pell Grants for low-income students who take advanced courses."

An additional $33 million to the federal Pell Grant system, earmarked for low-income kids who take advanced placement classes in high school - that money can be used for public or private college.

"Pell has really been the one program," says Sandy Baum of Skidmore College. "This is a need-based program focused on low-income students. We need a high maximum Pell. We do need more grant aid for those low-income students."

While Sen. Kerry is right about college costs - last year tuition at public schools rose 11 percent - the numbers also indicate that under the Bush administration increased financial aid, tax credits and tax deductions have made it easier for students to pay that tuition.

"I think many of the headlines really exaggerate the problems," says Baum. "Students who really want to go to college need to do the work, need to do the research and find out how they can get funds."

But for students like Honorio Franco, neither the Bush nor the Kerry plans will make his final bill for college much smaller.