“Go to college” is what every student in America hears growing up. But with 9.7 percent of the U.S. population unemployed, more and more students are hearing “Go to college, and find a way to pay for it.”
Seventy-six percent of a thousand parents surveyed in 2009 said they are worried about being able to pay for college, according to Public Agenda, a nonprofit organization that conducts opinion research.
“Students end up scrounging for ways to pay their tuition,” said Noemi Peterson, assistant director of student accounts at the University of La Verne.
Out of 3,866 undergraduate students admitted and enrolled at ULV for fall 2009, 1,011 students did not receive any financial aid, according to data provided by the financial aid office.
Typically those who do not receive financial aid are ineligible because they or their family make too much money.
But whether a student receives financial aid or not, paying for college in this unstable economy is a burden.
It is a common scenario. A student can be financially set for the fall semester but midway through, their parent loses their job and suddenly there is no money coming in to pay for the remainder of the school year.
“We award financial aid for the entire year not by semester,” Jason Neal said, associate director of financial aid. “Typically, what is in place for the fall should be in place for the spring.”
But what if a student suddenly cannot afford what their financial aid does not cover in the spring?
One might wonder if notifying FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) can help in a situation like this. The answer is no.
“We can’t change anything,” FAFSA customer representative Kachet Davis said over a phone interview. She went on to say FAFSA only supplies students’ financial information to their institution.
The institution would have to determine if the student is considered a dependent or an independent, and from there determine what financial aid the student is eligible for.
Peterson said that parents in that situation usually consider taking out additional federal parent loans and, if they cannot, students often find a cosigner and take out loans on their own. The other option is for the student to get a job.
“A lot of our students are resourceful,” Peterson said. “But it is difficult to do that (work and put ourself through school) on your own at a private university.”
Public Agenda also found that only 42 percent of surveyed college graduates managed to graduate without any financial help from their parents.
Accomplishing such a feat requires dedication and discipline, qualities evident in 20 year-old Cal Poly Pomona senior, Brian Morgan.
“My parents said they were broke,” Morgan said, who makes too much money as a retail consultant for Sprint to qualify for financial aid.
With a new wife, a new apartment and all the pressures of being a full-time college student, he joins the increasingly high number of American students with overly demanding schedules who have to pay their own way through school.
“Last week I worked nine days straight, half those days were 10 hour shifts, I wrote three term papers, had two presentations and I would leave the house at 6:30 a.m. and not come home until 11:00 p.m.,” Morgan said.
He is majoring in international business marketing and plans to go to grad school afterward, but that day is being delayed due to the financial woes plaguing Cal Poly. He said the classes he needs to graduate are either canceled or offered during the hours he is at work.
But if anything is to be gained from all this, it is life experience.
“It teaches me time management,” he said. “I will have the advantage of a college degree in the end and will also have work experience.”
Although work experience is priceless, some students manage to postpone going to work while going to college full-time, even without financial assistance from their parents.
This is true for sophomore Brianne Nordstrom, who, with high grades, has managed to get most of her tuition paid for through financial aid.
“After filling out the FAFSA, my EFC (expected family contribution) was zero. My mom told me if I wanted to go here (La Verne) I would have to pay for it myself,” Nordstrom said, who lives on campus.
Her mom told her to get good grades her last year in high school so that she could get scholarships, and that is exactly what she did.
She said doing well on her AP exams and raising her grades helped her get a ULV President’s Scholarship, which pays for half her tuition, and a ULV Grant that pays for a quarter of her tuition.
After a small loan, she only has to pay a couple hundred dollars out of pocket.
Some students may never know what it is like having to put themselves through college. But if the tables ever do turn, some say they will be ready.
“We can’t rely on everyone else but if we are passionate enough we can find a way to make it work,” said sophomore Jessica Reza, who is majoring in chemistry at ULV. Currently her parents pay for her college tuition.
If there is anything else positive to be said about having to pay for your own college education, assistant director of student accounts puts it plainly:
“I think students who pay for their own education appreciate it more,” Peterson said.
Mark Vidal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.