Students struggle, despite freeze on tuition hikesWritten by Scott McKimmy | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A tough economy is affecting family budgets throughout the country, but for college students, the impact can be especially daunting.
Although the three most prominent area institutions of higher learning have declared no increase in tuition for the fall, recent legislation signed by Gov. Ted Strickland may hamper budgeting efforts by local students.
So how do they make ends meet?
Christine Friess, a sophomore at Owens Community College, has taken a somewhat unique approach to funding her college education. She pays out of pocket by saving, working and cutting expenses as much as possible. She said her goal is to graduate without the burden of student-loan debt.
“I’ve seen people talk about the debts that they have and I didn’t want to be one of those people paying off school when I’m out of it, when I have kids and everything,” she said. “I just see it as one less thing to worry about if I pay it now.”
She pays on a monthly deferment plan, relying on income through the Owens’ office of student enrollment.
The Monclova native scrimps on expenses at every opportunity, buying used books or shopping online at sites, such as Amazon.com. Also, not much personal shopping and few nights out for entertainment or leisure are on her to-do list.
Every month can bring a recurring financial obstacle.
“If I do find that I’m not able to pay all of [my monthly payment], my parents step in and they are able to help me out. But for the most part, I just watch what I’m spending my money on and I make sure that I have enough put away for when I have to make my payment,” Friess said.
Financial aid experts at UT and BGSU said there is more federal aid available because of recent stimulus legislation, but Ohio budget cuts have decreased available state funds. And the late-breaking move has left many students and families who thought their budgets were established with a dilemma.
Carolyn Baumgartner, UT director of financial aid, described the gains in federal funds combined with the loss in state funds as “not a great trade-off.” Legislation signed by Strickland on July 17 — so late in the summer — adversely affected state grants in an untimely manner. She said the university is just informing students and their parents so they may adapt and seek out new financial sources to pay for college.
“It’s a significant impact on our students. It’s a 60 percent reduction in the state grants, and of course that grant goes to students with very high need,” Baumgartner said. “It’s hard for families to adjust when they thought they had their budgets in place for school this fall. So it’s a struggle [for] students that were receiving the state grant for the summer, just because of the tardiness of this final legislation.”
For many, student loans may be the most viable option, which are available through both the public and private sector.
Greg Guzman, BGSU director of student financial aid, emphasized the necessity for students to understand the difference between federal and commercial lending sources. He said there is still time to meet any gaps in student budgets before the school year begins, but applicants should pursue loans that will best suit their tight-budget needs.
“Nearly every financial aid office you call across the country is going to tell you the same thing: Explore your federal loan options first. Better interest rate, better repayment terms and more flexibility,” Guzman said.
“One way I always like to recommend to families when I do financial aid nights or any type of financial aid talks is to, oddly enough, visit your local library. This is a great suggestion, especially in Toledo. We have a phenomenal library system.”