Even several decades before the priciest college tuition bills approached $60,000 a year, newspaper columnist Bill Vaughn mused, "Economists report that a college education adds many thousands of dollars to a man's lifetime income - which he then spends sending his son to college." Any parent who's ever paid a tuition bill may simultaneously laugh and wince at the thought.

But for decades, the cost of private and public universities has increased at nearly twice the rate of inflation. Although billions of dollars in financial aid and scholarships are available, applying and qualifying remains a daunting task.

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