In these lean times, a college degree is considered especially vital to success. But for more than a decade, the cost of higher education has been growing at almost twice the rate of inflation. With sluggish economic conditions threatening job security across the country, parents and prospective students alike are increasingly questioning whether they can afford the high cost of a bachelor's degree -- and if it's worth the expense. They frequently complain that schools are charging more and giving less. Indeed, colleges and universities have been struggling to survive serious funding cutbacks by raising tuition, increasing class size, cutting faculty and dropping academic programs. Meanwhile, concern over the U.S. budget deficit is eroding support for federal student-aid programs.