With Increasing Tuition, Students Are Urged to Apply for Financial Aid

Article excerpt

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

Students and parents weighed down by the cost of a college education might have to shoulder a few more pounds this year, which financial aid experts say will be challenging at best.

Tuition is going up, federal grant assistance has remained flat and state aid has shown only modest gains. As this year's financial aid season gets under way, the scramble to find money for college hasn't become any easier, but aid advisers say no one should give up without a fight, or, in this case, an application.

"What I'm telling families to do is apply for financial aid, apply for scholarships and see what you're going to get," said Elizabeth Bickford, financial aid director at the University of Oregon. "Don't make the assumption that you're not going to qualify for something."

That's a mistake too many families make. Several studies, including a recent one by The College Board, found that almost half of students and parents either could not estimate college costs or overestimated the expense.

Lane Community College student Becky Parmentier, 33, of Eugene wasn't going to make that mistake. She was one of hundreds of people who attended a financial aid workshop at Lane Community College on Saturday. She said she was motivated to try for a scholarship after learning that a friend was awarded a $100,000 Ford Foundation Grant.

What's not so clear is the effect rising tuition and flat aid budgets are having on college enrollment. On the one hand, so many parents and students are trying to find financial aid that they packed the LCC workshop.

On the other hand, the growth in the number of people applying for the Oregon Opportunity Grant is slowing. The grant is the state's primary source of need-based college aid.

Jim Beyer, grants and scholarships director for the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, said the number of grant applications for students attending community colleges is up 7 percent so far this year, compared with 12 percent at the same time last year and 23 percent the year before that.

Applications for Oregon University System schools are up only 2.5 percent, compared with 8 percent last year and 11 percent the year before that.

"We're seeing a definite slowdown," Beyer said. "We're not sure what to attribute that to."

Many believe that it's the rising cost of a college education. Tuition at Oregon's universities is up an average of 25 percent since 2002 and community colleges are seeing similar increases; tuition at Lane Community College is up more than 50 percent in the past two years.

Pell grants, the largest form of federal grant aid, are flat this year, and students will see only marginal growth in Opportunity Grant awards.

Institutional aid, money that individual colleges and universities offer as supplemental grants and scholarships, also shows little growth and could even decline.

What all that adds up to, one student aid expert says, is a tough year for college aid.

"It's going to be an extremely challenging year," said David Myette, board chairman of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. "It's going to be much more difficult for students. It's difficult to get scholarships and difficult to get money."

That's bad news for parents as well as students. Stephanie Chaney of Eugene attended the LCC financial aid work to get an early start in navigating the financial aid maze for her son, a junior at South Eugene High School.

"I just want to find out as much as possible," she said.

Government-subsidized loans, which must be repaid, will continue to be one of the main sources of aid for students. Grants, which do not have to be repaid, once made up more than 50 percent of total student aid but have fallen to 40 percent, while loans have risen to 54 percent of aid, according to The College Board. …