As Students Struggle to Pay Tuition, Schools Scramble to Trim Budgets the Money Crunch: Colleges and Universities Try to Cut Costs without Lowering Quality -- but Still Tuitions Climb; That's Bad Enought for All Students, but Minorities Especially Risk Being Priced out of Higher Education

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HOLLY SNIFF, who is the first person in her family to attend college, found out about making hard choices early on. "I really wanted to go out of state for school, but because of financial reasons I couldn't," says Ms. Sniff, who is now a sophomore at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

For as long as she can remember, Sniff has been putting away money for her education. "I saved every dollar I was given as birthday presents or special treats as a child," she says.

Those childhood savings along with summer earnings and additional financial help from relatives got Sniff through her first year of college. But tuition continues to rise, and Sniff, along with millions of other students, is struggling to keep up.

At the same time, both private and public colleges and universities are moving beyond trimming at the margins to control costs.

Many schools are freezing faculty salaries, suspending hiring, delaying building maintenance, limiting course offerings, and even cutting academic departments.

Administrators are finding that they can no longer fund every project, department, or program. In the 1991-92 academic year, 57 percent of all colleges and universities were forced to reduce their operating budgets, according to an annual survey by the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.

At the University of Vermont, a budget committee's proposal to eliminate the School of Engineering led to an uproar and the eventual resignation of the university's president.

AS state funding shrinks, public universities are being forced to increase class sizes and cut back on student services. Students at California's public universities have staged massive student protests against overcrowded classes and eye-popping tuition increases.

Nationwide, public colleges raised their tuition and fees an average of 10 percent and private-college increases averaged 7 percent this year, according to the College Board's annual survey released last month.

"Given the state of the economy and its impact on state budgets, many people expected much larger {tuition} increases this year, particularly in the public sector," says Donald Stewart, president of the College Board.

The rate of increase for public-college tuition is actually down this year compared with last year's 13 percent rise. And private colleges held their increases to last year's rate.

Yet that doesn't mean tuitions are gravitating back to earthly levels, warns Arthur Hauptman, a college tuition consultant.

"What the public tuition number says is that the recession has eased a little bit," he says. "If things get better {in terms of the economy}, you would expect to see some additional reduction in those numbers."

In the '90s, Mr. Hauptman points out, there is much more competition for state funds than there was in the 1980s. Health care, prisons, and elementary and secondary education are all clamoring for funding. …