Paying the higher cost of a higher education

When Ashley Overhouse's parents found out that the cost of her first year at the University of California-Santa Cruz would be almost 8% higher than they'd thought, she says they had an understandable reaction: "They freaked."

Ashley's parents aren't alone. As tuitions and fees continue to rise both in California and nationwide, there is increasing pressure on college-bound members of the class of 2008 and their families to fill the gap between what they can get in federal and state financial aid and what a higher education will actually cost them.

To finance her freshman year of college this fall, Ashley has secured a $5,000 Cal Grant, two scholarships and two loans from UCSC. Even with all this in place, she's still looking at ways to cover costs. "My scholarships are for $400 and $1,000," Ashley says. "That'll pay for my books."

Not quite, according to data from San Francisco State University, whose student outreach services estimated the total cost of a University of California education at $22,560-$26,958 for the 2007-08 school year. Of that amount, $1,588 was earmarked for textbooks and supplies.

These figures are set to increase in 2008-09. UC regents recently approved a 7.4% fee hike for the coming school year; that same week, California State University trustees authorized a 10% fee increase for undergraduates, up from $15,520-$21,535 in 2007-08.

As college costs increase, so does the amount students and their parents are borrowing to pay for them. According to the New York Times, this amount neared $60 billion in federally guaranteed loans last year, 6 percent more than in 2006.

The House Education Committee recently approved legislation increasing the total amount students can borrow through federal programs from $23,000 to $31,000, a move that doesn't sit well with high school faculty charged with helping students find funding for college.

"The burden coming down the pike is the loan amount kids graduate with," says Mary Connelly, a college counselor at Ashley's high school. "The federal government keeps increasing the amount students can borrow but doesn't increase financial aide and other things that don't need to get paid back."

Whether they're attending a state or a private university, next fall's crop of college freshmen seems resigned to graduating with a fair amount of debt.

"It's a given that we'll all take a loan out sometime, but we want to offset that as much as possible," says Schuyler Williams, who will attend Occidental College in the fall. Tuition at the private Los Angeles college is $35,373 a year; room and board, another $9,500.

Joan Albers, another college counselor, says the best way for college students to avoid incurring too many student loans is to apply for every scholarship they think they might be eligible to receive."If you don't ask, the answer is no," Albers reasons.

To cut costs, Albers says, many college students are choosing to live at home and attend community college before transferring to a state university.

John Brionas, another member of the class of 2008, is receiving financial aid to study nursing at community college in the fall and says he'll probably take out loans when he transfers to a four-year university.

"Life just gets more expensive," he shrugs.

Photo by Anne Gelhaus

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