(PHILADELPHIA) – The cost of college is stressing parents and putting students into debt, but they continue to bear the burden because they’re convinced it is vital for the future.

A group of parents gathered recently at Enon Baptist Church recently to get help filling out financial aid forms (see related story).  Their children would be the first in their families to get a college education, and their pride could not be clouded by worrying about the cost.

“We have faith, so I know we’re going to make it somehow,” said Barry Brown, a father.

“Sometimes it’s a little nerve-wracking, but I know that we’ll be able to get it done,” added his daughter, Jacqui.

This is the American dream in action:  College — the key to upward mobility, the doorway to the middle class.

But the code has gotten tougher to crack.   Tuition costs keep rising, financial aid is on the chopping block, and in the last few years, through a recession and “jobless recovery” (see related stories), those white collar jobs were not waiting for graduates.

Rob Vassallo is struggling to pay off $27,000 in student loans with a part-time job.  He says he often has second thoughts when he looks at his roommate, who went straight into the work force from high school.

“And he’s been there for over three years now, making $18 an hour, saving up money, and those student loans aren’t an issue for him,” Vassallo muses.

Still, statistics say, Vassallo will be vindicated in the long run with higher earnings over his lifetime.

The College Board calculates that it takes 11 years to recoup the cost of college and those initial delayed earnings.  That’s partly because there are so few alternatives. Blue collar jobs that used to pay a family wage are vanishing.

And that’s why — despite increasing obstacles — elected officials, including Mayor Michael Nutter, have made increasing access to college a top priority.

“The future of the city depends on it,” the mayor says.

Reported by Pat Loeb, KYW Newsradio 1060.

Hear the Regional Affairs Council podcasts…

Part 1: Why Is College So Expensive?
Part 2: Public vs. Private Colleges
Part 3: Is College Worth The Money?
Part 4: How To Pay For College

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