Friday, March 13, 2009

College Life

Is There Any Hope For College Students?
By Damaris Colon

Current and incoming college students are facing many of the hardships that are seen in the overall US economy. Many are experiencing higher tuition, smaller scholarships, increased rejection letters, lenders who have put a halt on lending all together, and others who are raising interest rates on personal loans.

All things considered, the country’s current recession hasn’t affected everyone in the same way. Adrienne Warren, a twenty-one year old senior in her final semester at Marymount Manhattan College has been fortunate enough to have parents who are very supportive, especially financially. They have taken out loans to pay for her education and Warren laughs as she recites her father’s announcement that he will, “pay back her loans by never retiring for the rest of his life.”

Despite her father’s declaration, Warren vows to help her parents as much as she can. On the other hand, students like Angelique Smith, 21, who is also in her final semester at Marymount, are afraid of an uncertain future. “I feel that it will be hard for me to find a good job that will help payback my school loans,” says Smith. “College debt is a pain in my ass and I’m scared it’s going to consume me for the rest of my life.”

Considering that hundreds of thousands of workers who sought full-time employment recently were only able to find part-time positions, Smith may have a viable concern. The US unemployment rate rose to 8.1% in February. First-time claims for unemployment benefits rose to 654,000 in the first week of March, and held above 600,000 for a sixth straight time.

Many college students are facing the harsh reality that shortly after graduation they will need to begin paying for their student loans. With the possibility of not finding a job that will cover their expenses, some graduates may make the dreaded decision to move back to their parent’s homes to save money.

While some students like Warren have a great deal of financial support from their parents, others will need to struggle to find money to further their education. Corey Mayer, 25, a prospective student at Mercy College’s Veterinary Technician program, is coming to terms with the idea that he could pursue a career in veterinary medicine, and with the fact that he may not be financially stable to pay for school once he’s accepted.

“It’s unfortunate that it has taken me this many years to finally figure out what it is I want to do with my life, and to have that dream potentially put on hold because of our country’s economic health and because my family does not have the money to pay for my education is a scary and almost frustrating thing,” says Mayer. “I wish I had a family that was financially stable to take on the burden of school loans,” he says, “but the reality of the situation is that I don’t. I guess we are all made to deal with the hand we were given.”

It is even difficult for students who are currently enrolled in college to pay tuition. A recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers found that 65% of schools across the US have reported an increase in the amount of unpaid tuition bills, which prevent many students from returning to class.

So, what next? One effort to lessen the financial burden on college students and their families comes from the American Recovery and Investment Plan which now grants a $2,500 college tax credit for four million college students, and triples the number of fellowships in science to help spur innovation. In addition, colleges throughout the US have begun creating initiatives that will allow current and prospective students to remain enrolled.

For instance, Spellman College has called for a large-scale alumni donor drive to help current students stay enrolled, while Brown University has opted to increase the amount of back tuition a student can owe and still be allowed to continue schooling.

However, outside of these efforts, there is not much effort to assist college students. Financial grants and awards are still given out on a first-come first-serve basis, therefore students who consider themselves to be the most “needy” should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible.

Until the country’s economy emerges from the fog of recession, college students like Warren, and prospective students like Mayer may just have to wait and hope for the best.

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