Last year, nearly 2,000 families in Jefferson County missed out on more than $3 million in tax credits designed to offset rising college costs - and families statewide missed out on more than $700 million in tax credits. With an average tax credit of more than $1,900, families struggling to pay tuition costs should utilize the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

No parent should have to say "no" to a hardworking student eager to go to college. Unfortunately, though, for many Ohio families, higher education simply seems beyond their economic reach. With only 35 percent of eligible Ohio families claiming the AOTC last year, and with the cost of college on the rise, it's more important than ever for Ohio families to know that a college tax credit is available. That's why I've started a major campaign to make sure that as eligible Ohio families file tax returns, they claim the AOTC.

The AOTC, which passed as part of the Recovery Act and was extended for two years in the bipartisan tax compromise passed before the holidays, provides a $1 tax credit for each $1 spent on college tuition. The dollar-for-dollar match is good for the first $2,000 spent on college costs for each child, with the total credit worth $2,500.

The average credit in Ohio last year was $1,918. That means that Ohio middle class families can save upward of $8,000 to $10,000 over four years.

This isn't a government hand out; this tax credit is a refund on the money that Ohio families spend investing in their children's college tuition, which in turn is an investment in our nation's economic future.

College is expensive. According to the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio, the average tuition at a four-year public school in Ohio is $6,811. Factor in room and board and books, and families in Ohio are paying an average of $8,761 each year at four-year public schools and $24,534 at four-year private schools.

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