College tuition on the rise nationwide

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    By Eric Christensen

    Getting into college was the easy part; figuring out how to pay for it will earn most university graduates their degrees.

    According to the College Board, a public-policy research organization focused on education issues, “both public and private four-year college tuitions increased on average more than 115 percent over inflation” since 1980. This translated further means the average college tuition has increased two to three times faster than the Consumer Price Index.

    According to the College Board, the average tuition at four-year public colleges and universities last year rose from $3,362 to $3,510, a 4.4 percent increase. And at private four-year institutions, the average tuition increased from $15,518 to $16,332, a 5.2 percent jump.

    Figures for the 2001-2002 school year do not offer much hope of change.

    “The trend is definitely higher than last year,” says Terry Reindl, chief of state policy at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

    According to Reindl, among the universities to raise tuition substantially for this school year include: the University of Minnesota, which increased its tuition by 13.3 percent; Ohio State University, which rose by 9.3 percent; and the University of Tennessee, which ascended by nearly 15 percent.

    Private colleges and universities have raised their tuitions for the coming school year an estimated 4.5 to 5 percent according to the College Board. It”s an increase that tends to occur at schools with smaller endowments and fewer students, said Roland King, vice president for public affairs at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

    But even though private institutions usually have higher tuitions than public schools, King points out, “Private colleges and universities offer more student aid, which brings the difference in cost between the two closer together.”

    “And,” says Cheryl Fields, spokeswoman for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, “when institutions raise their tuitions, they also raise their aid packages for the neediest students.”

    Many students cover the increasing cost with the available financial aid. According to Fields, of the 14.5 million college students, 8.1 million receive financial aid.

    “There are a number of resources out there,” notes Tim McDounough, director of public affairs at the American Council on Education (ACE), “including savings plans at the state level for both public and private schools and financial aid from state and federal government sources.”

    McDounough recommends that students search the Internet for available financial-aid opportunities.

    Finaid, an Internet resource run by Mark Kantrowitz, offers a comprehensive set of financial-aid calculators and searches compatible with the student”s grade-point average, SAT scores, career interests and activities.

    “Students should never pay money to find out about financial aid for school,” Kantrowitz said. “Most of these fee-based services actually are on the Internet for free.”

    Kantrowitz warns that students and their families should also be wary of services that claim to do “all the paperwork for you.”

    Brenda Mack, director of public affairs at the Federal Trade Commission said, “You have to do the work; no service can fill out applications for you. It will only cost you your time.”

    The College Board advises students to apply early for financial aid early with deadlines ranging from October to February.

    Students who apply for federal and state aid can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on the Internet at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Many colleges and universities also require the their own applications along with the FAFSA.

    With student aid from all sources now topping $68 billion, there are numerous payment options students can choose to fund higher education.

    The Stafford Unsubsidized Loan option is available to students regardless of need. Under this option, interest charges are added to the borrower”s total cost while he or she still is in school. In the Stafford Subsidized Loan option the government pays the interest while the borrower is in school.

    Pell Grants, at a maximum of $3,125, offer students federal funds that do not have to be repaid. While the maximum Pell Grant covers 39 percent of the average fixed costs (tuition and fees, room and board) at a four-year public college, it pays only 15 percent of the average fixed costs at a private four-year college.

    Families also can finance their children”s education by saving and investing money from the time the children are young. According to the College Board, a family that saves $50 a month from the time their child is born will have more than $16,000 in savings by that child”s high-school graduation, with about $6,000 earned in interest.

    Even with all the aid available, about one-half of college graduates start their post education careers in debt. According to Shields, the average tuition debt for a student who has attended a four-year public institution is $12,000, and for one at a four-year private school it is $14,000.

    “Repaying student loans can be crippling to students who enter low-paying jobs,” Shields said, “but many of them find this out too late.”

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