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'Raw Politics': Can candidates cut college costs?

  • Story Highlights
  • Cost of getting an education is on the rise
  • Even families who save for years can have trouble paying for an education
  • Clinton, McCain, Obama have touted plans to make college more affordable
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From Tom Foreman
CNN Washington Bureau
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"Raw Politics" on "Anderson Cooper 360" delivers the latest political news with a wry sense of a humor and without spin.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- From groceries to gasoline, everything is costing more. As schools compete to be the best by expanding campuses and adding research centers, the cost of an education is growing.

All three of the presidential candidates say they want to help in the future, but many high school seniors heading to college next fall are getting a hard lesson in economics.

Average total costs at a private school are more than $32,000 a year. A public in-state school will cost more than $13,000, and that's up 22 percent in the past five years.

Laura Peppe, a high school student in Fall Church, Virginia, has her eyes set on a career in architecture.

Her brother, Matthew, is already in college and hopes to study medicine.

Their goals are reason for any parent to be proud, but the cost attached to their education can be frightening.

Ron and Beth Peppe have saved for years, but they still worry they won't have enough to pay for their children's college expenses.

"We're moderately well off. We do OK, but we can't just write a check for the kids to go anywhere," Ron Peppe said.

When Ron Peppe was in his 20s, he and his wife tried to calculate how much money they would need to send their kids to college. He said the number he and his wife came up with was "daunting," so they started saving.

But even with years of savings behind them, paying for college is no easy task.

Sens. Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama all say they have plans to help families like the Peppes. Video Watch what the candidates plan to do »

Obama said he wants to put a college education "within reach of every American."

"We will give you the money you need to afford a college education without going $30,000 or $40,000 into debt. And in exchange, you are going to participate in community service," Obama said at a rally in Indianapolis, Indiana, this month.

The senator from Illinois has also proposed creating a $4,000 tax credit for tuition and fees.

"We will invest in them, and they will invest back in America," he said earlier this year. "Together, we will remake this country. That's the bargain we can make with the next generation of Americans."

He's advocated simplifying the process of applying for financial aid by using tax data instead of a form students must fill out.

Obama has said he and his wife, Michelle, paid off their student loans just five or six years ago.

At a rally in Fairmont, West Virginia, Clinton told a crowd she wants to offer young people up to two years of national service from which they could earn a $10,000 scholarship.

The senator from New York has proposed a $3,500 college tax credit, and, along with Obama, supports expanding the Pell Grant.

The Pell Grant program provides financial aid to low income students and does not need to be repaid.

Clinton has also proposed investing $500 million in community colleges.

And McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, also pledged to make education available for everyone. He said, "I don't mandate that every American has education; I'll mandate that its available."

McCain proposed that the Department of Education work with governors to make sure that each "state's guarantee agency has the means and manpower to meet its obligation as a lender-of-last-resort for student loans."

"In the years ahead, these young Americans will be needed to sustain America's primacy in the global marketplace. And they should not be denied an education because the recklessness of others has made credit too hard to obtain," he said.

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But making those ideas work is tough. Congress has not been able to even pass legislation updating the G.I. Bill to help make college affordable for veterans.

Still, whether or not families expect assistance, the cost of college is a real pocketbook issue for the young voters -- voters both parties will want when classes reconvene this fall.

CNN's Kristi Keck contributed to this report.

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