There's a current court case with some juicy details in which an 18 year old is suing her married parents for college tuition (and private high school tuition, but that's neither here nor there).
I'm inclined to think that if the parents have capacity to pay for college, they probably should be compelled, altho only on a case by case basis -- along the lines of family court child support decisions. That's how it sometimes work in cases of divorce already. If you read this, I think you can better understand why I think that way; the short form is that need-based aid all presumes that parents with the capacity pay will pay, and there isn't really any provision for how to help the student when the family refuses. I'm proposing that family court could participate in this -- or financial aid could be radically redesigned, with implications for taxpayers in general.
But my thinking on this is still very fluid, and I'm interested in alternative perspectives.
I'm not proposing to completely soak parents. I'm more thinking along the lines of, there was a college fund in existence, but because of current rancor they are refusing to disburse. I'm also not proposing that anyone be required to pay for the most expensive schools; child support payment formulas aren't famous for being overly generous and I'm imagining something along the same lines.
Another component of my thinking is that college (including various vocational tracks such as cosmetology or apprenticing in one of the construction trades) is more or less mandatory AND widely accepted as a social good at this point. We don't approve of parents who meet evolving standards of neglect (inadequate clothing, food, housing, etc.); adding this to the list seems at least possible, as long as we recognize that many parents lack the capacity to pay anything (but then they should be compelled to provide relevant information for the FAFSA).
I've had a couple of ponies in this race. My parents were reluctant to participate in paying tuition for me because of JW rules about college (which had not been in play when my older sister went to college, and didn't apply to my other sister's vocational education), and had a bunch of squirrely ideas about filling out the FAFSA. I didn't much care for what I had to do to make ends meet, and I sure met other people who couldn't. Fast forward a couple decades, and I ran into younger people similarly meeting parental resistance to filling out the FAFSA -- and to paying for college.
Either the federal aid rules need to change, or we need to start compelling the putative adults involved to comply.