When Harry Truman announced the appearance of the first volume of the Presidential Commission on Higher Education report in 1947, he famously declared:

Higher education in our Nation is confronted today with tremendous responsibilities. Colleges and universities are burdened by great overcrowding and a shortage of teachers. Most importantly, however, we are challenged by the need to insure that higher education shall take its proper place in our national effort to strengthen democracy at home and to improve our understanding of our friends and neighbors everywhere in the world….

A carefully developed program to strengthen higher education, taken together with a program for the support of elementary and secondary education, will inevitably strengthen our Nation and enrich the lives of our citizens.

The Commission’s landmark report, entitled Higher Education for American Democracy, articulated a number of ambitious goals, including eliminating racial and religious discrimination in college admissions and the large-scale creation of community colleges throughout the country. The overall aim of the Commission was to radically expand access to higher education to all Americans.

Of course, college is expensive, then and now. In order to help prospective students pay for these new opportunities to better themselves intellectually and financially, Truman and his Commission came up with an innovative proposal that proved remarkably popular and is widely regarded today as totally and utterly sensible and not at all bizarre, wasteful, or cumbersome:

So that our Nation might become more smarter with the book-learnin’, we hereby decree that if’n you can’t afford tuition, you can take out huge loans from middleman companies that we’re going to shovel truckloads of taxpayer money to, so they can get rich while you spend your entire career paying them back directly and indirectly, by which we mean, paying taxes that will again, uh, go to these private middlemen corporations.  This is of course far more sensible than either lending you the money directly ourselves or, hell, just giving it to you, even though ultimately, perhaps in the next millennium, if we’re lucky, this system will end up pissing away around $87 billion for no sane reason other than making rich corporations and their well-heeled lobbyists richer.

Ha ha ha that is a joke. They didn’t say anything of the sort! Instead, on the affordability issue, what Truman actually proposed  was:

the extension of free public education through the first 2 years of college for all youth who can profit from such education

And

the expansion of Federal support for higher education through scholarships, fellowships, and general aid.

But what we ended up with is this absurd situation where we indirectly support students by directly subsidizing large for-profit corporations. (Yes, my children, there used to be a time when the American government was capable of accomplishing more than conducting stupid wars and funneling public cash to private greedheads. Really!)

Whether or not the Senate is going to do the right thing and reform student aid is up in the air. There are hopeful signs, but then again this is of course the United States Senate we are talking about, which is, unfortunately, full of United States Senators, including such specimens as Evan Bayh.

So who knows what will happen? Always remember that the US Senate is far, far worse than Hell. Hell, of course, is not currently inhabited by Joseph Lieberman.