Well, finally! Hard-right congressional leaders and the Obama White House ultimately agreed that interest rates on student loans should not double to nearly 7 percent, as they let happen early in July. Instead, college students will be billed at a rate that will steadily rise to above 8 percent. This is progress? Well, yes \u2014 in that this year\u2019s rate would drop to 3.8 percent. But, in the long run? Obviously not. Even capping the interest rate at 8.25 percent, as the White House demanded, is too high, for it still saddles students with a crushing debt of some $40,000 or more for a four year degree, just as they\u2019re getting started on their economic path. But worse, lawmakers are playing small ball, avoiding the big issue. Bickering over percentages shrivels the public debate to its most picayune and meanest point, which our so-called leaders seem to specialize in these days. They focus on the price of everything without grasping the value anything. And the value of a college education \u2014 not only to America\u2019s youth, but most significantly to our whole society\u2019s economic and democratic future \u2014 is clearly established. So the big question we should be asking is this: Why isn\u2019t higher education free? As Les Leopold of the Labor Institute notes in an AlterNet essay, \u201cFor over 150 years, our nation has recognized that tuition-free primary and secondary schools were absolutely vital to the growth and functioning of our commonwealth.\u201d Today, open access to a college degree or other advanced training is as vital to America as a high school diploma has been in our past. Forget interest rates, our young people should not have to struggle with massive debt to get the education that they need \u2014 an education that all of America needs them to have for our mutual prosperity and democratic strength. OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He\u2019s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.