Colleges and universities (is there a difference today?), like businesses and governments, face major challenges today. After all is said and done, the issue is the value we place on higher education.

The cost to attend a four-year institution, public or private, is staggering. Students plunge into debt to pay the cost. A news release from the White House this week said the average borrower now graduates with more than $26,000 in debt in the United States. Some will die before the debt is retired. Others are saddled with debt for most of their working adult lives. Job opportunities are not what they once were. We have many college graduates employed in positions that they are over qualified for, and that wave seems to have no end.

Public institutions of higher learning are cheaper than the private schools, which must seek major gifts to make ends meets. Federal and state aid to public colleges and universities is not what it once was.

If it were not for scholarships, many students would never pass through the doors of a four-year educational institution.

The White House press release said the average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250 percent over the past three decades while incomes for typical families grew by only 16 percent. In Missouri, about 538,400 undergraduate students are enrolled in higher education institutions across the state. For the 2011-12 school year, the average cost of attendance for in-state undergraduate students at public colleges and universities living on campus reached $19,516 in Missouri. The debt they owe when they graduate in Missouri is slightly below the national level ($23,229).

The White House said the federal government has recognized the situation college students face. The maximum Pell Grant award for middle-class families has been increased by more than $900. The American Opportunity Tax Credit has been created, and student loan reforms have been made in an attempt to open higher education doors to more students.

To cut state revenue means that there will be less funding for higher education, and at all levels of the education ladder. That’s one reason, among others, that Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a tax cut measure (HB 253) passed by the General Assembly. Legislators will try to override that veto in September. If it passes, there will be less revenue for education. We must remember that Missouri already is a low tax state. Proponents of the veto override claim it will bring more businesses to a state, creating new jobs. One of the most important aspects of landing new businesses, or industry, to a state is the quality of life. You do not enhance the quality of life by cutting state and local services!

The best bargain in higher education are the state’s community colleges. Tuition is low and it allows students to live at home, work part time and attend classes, which usually are flexible to meet most students’ needs.

We must never downgrade the value of a college education. A college education is the best investment a person can make. It may not always pay off heavily in a high-paying job, but it forms a more all-around person — opens the mind to more satisfying aspects of life. We need technical graduates as well as the liberal arts graduates who enter many fields and excel because their minds have been trained to learn and adapt rather quickly. The need for professional specialists in many fields has never been greater.

Higher education institutions are like businesses in that they face rising costs in operation and in maintaining what they have. Scholarship aid needs to be increased and the private sector has a major role in cooperating by awarding more grants to students.

More state and federal aid is needed. When we learn of what we are spending in aid to other countries and watch our needs go unfilled, something’s wrong. And in all aid programs, whether it be foreign or domestic, above all we need accountability.