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College costs

College Costs


It's no secret that financing a college education is getting

tougher. College costs have skyrocketed over the past decade or so, and there's

no relief in sight. Average tuition at four-year colleges will increase 7

percent this school year, double the rate of inflation. Student aid is not

increasing fast enough to plug the growing gap between tuition and family

finances. In addition, there is a growing number of older students entering

college today. These students have families that they need to support. I know,

because I am a family man who has returned to school. I wish to finish my

degree at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The only problems I face are

financial in nature. It is with this in mind that I set about this research. The

not so simple question: Is financial aid available to older students, and if so,

how do they go about obtaining it?

The Cost Of Education

The cost of higher education varies by type of institution.

Tuition is highest at private 4-year institutions, and lowest at public 2-year

institutions. The private 4-year colleges nearly quadrupled their average

tuition rates between 1975 and 1996. For private 4-year colleges, tuition and

fees for the 1995-96 academic year averaged about $15,400, compared with about

$5006 at public 4-year colleges. The cost of attending an institution of higher

education includes not only tuition and fees, however, but also books and

supplies, transportation, personal expenses and, sometimes, room and board.

Although tuition and fees generally are substantially lower at public

institutions than at private ones, the other student costs are about the same.

According to MS-Encarta94,"the average cost for tuition, fees, and room and

board for the 1995-96 academic year at private 4-year colleges was about $20,165.

At public 4-year colleges the average combined cost was about $9290" (Encarta94).

The cost of attending RIT is approximately $15700 per year. This

does not include room and board, or books, and supplies . This cost falls in

line with the national average. However , according to Rachel Shuman of the RIT

Financial Aid Department,"the increase in cost at RIT was 4.8 percent for the

1996-97 academic year over the 1995-96 academic year." This falls 2.2 percent

below the national average for 4 year private institutions. Still, $15700 is a

lot of dollars for an unemployed family man or woman with little or no income.

The Cost Of Living Factor

Though the Cost Of Living is not directly related to tuition it

is still a major player in the decision making process. Is it possible to

maintain a family financial structure while paying for an education? The cost of

a mortgage, or rent, and other bills that are associated with living adds up to

many thousands of dollars per year. These costs in addition to what the tuition,

books, and supplies total are expected, and have to be dealt with.

The financial burden alone can seem over-whelming to some. But

let us consider what the total cost of living and attending a four year private

institution are. The Bureau of Census statistics for the County of Monroe

indicate "that the approximate average income for a family of four is $50964.

The poverty level for a family of four is approximately $15455". These are

statistics calculated for the 1995 calendar year. No newer statistics were

available. With these statistics in mind we can then determine the financial

model we must follow. This model will determine what the total yearly outlay a

family of four must shoulder in order to send a person to RIT.

The Financial Burden

First and foremost a family has to live. The Census data

indicates that the minimum a family must earn is "a poverty level income." So,

let's assume a family needs $16000 per year for living expenses. The cost of

attending RIT is $15651 per year. Books and supplies are approximately $1200 per

year. Finally, travel expenses will be approximately $500 per year. I am

assuming that one spouse will be working to cover the living expenses. So, I am

excluding medical and dental costs. These costs are partially or fully covered

by an employer. In the event they are not let us include them in the poverty

scenario, which basically means the family must pay the costs.

The total amount of funds needed are $17700 the first year. If

you increase that number by 4.8% each year thereafter you can come up with the

projected amount for each school year.The $17700 figure remains the obstacle to

overcome. This cost has to be covered by Financial Aid. If this cost cannot be

covered by the available system, the student will not be able to pursue a

standard four year degree at RIT.

Family's Will Strain

It's going to be tougher to pay for college in 1996, and that's

going to widen the gap in enrollment between rich and poor students that the

nation has struggled three decades to close. Average tuition at four-year

colleges will increase 6 percent this school year, double the rate of inflation.

But family income isn't keeping pace; "after adjusting for inflation, the

average family has gained hardly any ground in the 1990s," says the Department

of Labor. As a result, says the Department of Education,"sending a student to a

private college in 1996 without any grants or loans will require more than a

third of a typical family's income and nearly two thirds of the income of a

working-poor family."

The Government

Student aid is not increasing fast enough to plug the growing

gap between tuition and family finances. The federal government supplies 75

percent of student aid. But the value of federal grants has eroded sharply,

covering only 10 percent of tuition today, compared with 20 percent a decade ago.

The Financial Aid Page explains that:

Congress's budget-cutting Republicans want to spend $450 million

less in

1996 on student grants, a move that education officials say

would take

nearly 200,000 student off the grant rolls. Also at risk: a new


program that helps less affluent students by permitting them to


federal loans over a longer period if their incomes' after

graduation are

modest (Kantrowitz).

Not surprisingly, the American Council on Education an

organization of colleges and universities, recently reported that fewer colleges

than in the early 1990's report enrollment increases among black and Hispanic

students, who are generally less able to pay for college.Once in school, more

and more students must work to pay their tuition bills. At least 40 percent of

full-time undergraduate students are earning while they learn, says the ACE.

The prognosis isn't encouraging. "The tuition spiral is not

likely to end, nor is student aid likely to catch up anytime soon," write

college cost experts Lawrence Gladieux and Arthur Hauptman in a new report, "The

College Aid Quandary." To a nation that likes to think of itself as a

meritocracy, not merely a bastion of privilege, that's a disturbing message


Well, that's a lot of important statistical information. Enough

I think that most people would like to throw this paper out and forget the whole

idea of returning to school. But not so fast, there is a light at the end of

this tunnel!

Where Should I Begin My Search?

The financial aid office at the school you plan to attend is the

best place to begin your search for free information. The financial aid

administrator can tell you about student aid available from the federal

government, your state government, the school itself, and other sources. You can

also find free information about student aid in the reference section of your

local library (usually listed under "student aid" or "financial aid"). These

materials usually include information about federal, state, institutional, and

private aid.

The major source of student financial aid is the U.S. Department

of Education. Nearly 70 percent of the student aid that is awarded each year

comes from the U.S. Department of Education programs (approximately $23.4

billion in 1992-93). Student aid is also available from other federal agencies,

such as the U.S. Public Health Service and the U.S. Department of Veterans

Affairs. The free student financial aid materials available in the financial aid

office at your school include The Student Guide, a free booklet about financial

aid from the U.S. Department of Education, and the Free Application for Federal

Student Aid (FAFSA). (Education)

Financial Aid for Older Students

Many scholarship and fellowship programs do not have age

restrictions. If there are restrictions, they are expressed in terms of the

student's year in school (e.g., high school senior) and not as an age limit.

Thus there are many awards for which older students are eligible, simply because

the awards do not disqualify students based on age. Older students should

conduct a search for aid just like younger students. There are no,"age

restrictions on eligibility for federal student financial aid. Although many

schools restrict eligibility for the school's own financial aid programs to the

first Bachelor's degree, some schools will waive the restrictions when the

student is an adult returning to school to earn a second degree in preparation

for a career change" (Kantrowitz).

The Financial Aid Office

Following the advice of the sources I have used for compiling

this research paper I contacted the Financial Aid Office at RIT and set up an

interview. While waiting for the date of my appointment I compiled a list of

questions I would ask the Financial Aid Officer(FAO). When the day of the

interview was at hand I was prepared. The FAO's at RIT are assigned to students

alphabetically. My FAO is Rachel Schuman and she was genuinely surprised that I

had a prepared list of questions. Here is a synopsis of that interview.

I asked her what the total cost of attending RIT would be for

the coming school year? What expenses are incurred? What are the chances of

being turned down?

She was fairly straightforward about answering most of the

questions that I posed. However on some sticky issues she was reserved. At one

point she had to check with her boss for an answer. I wondered if she was merely

asking her boss if it was against policy to answer certain questions.

There were a number times that she simply pointed across the

hall to admissions. Indicating that they could answer my questions better.

The basic answers were that Yes RIT gives Merit Scholarships,

and that probably some type of loans and/or work study program would be required.

Mrs. Schuman then told me that if you are eligible for aid you will receive it.

I was not particularly encouraged by her explanations and as I found out later I

as right.

The first thing you have to do is get accepted by the College

Admissions Department. This in itself is another bureaucratic nightmare. I

talked to Al Biles the Assistant Dean of Computer Information Technology and


"Just go over to admissions and sign up."

Well when I got to admissions I paid my fee and waited for three

weeks for a letter that never came. Instead I got a postcard telling me I need

to get my GED. I went back to see Mrs. Schuman.

Rachel then explained to me that there is a process for

obtaining financial aid. You must first fill out all necessary forms and

applications. Then according to the information you supply you will be assigned

a Student Aid Report(SAR). The SAR will show your Expected Family

Contribution(EFC). Then your EFC is subtracted from the schools Cost of

Attendance which gives your FAO the students Financial need.

Based on my interview with Rachel Schuman it became apparent

that I needed to arrange an interview with admissions. In order to clear up the

two unanswered questions. But, before I left, Mrs. Schuman gave me three

applications to fill out. The FAFSA, the New York State Tuition Assistance(TAP)

application, and the RIT Application For 1997-98 Financial Aid For Continuing

Undergraduate Students. At this point it was becoming very clear to me that

there is money available, but the process is slow and filled with bureaucratic

red tape. I guess if you want to play though, you might as well play with the

big kids.


Shortly after my talk with Rachel Schuman I telephoned Renee

Minnich. Renee Minnich is the Assistant Director of the Office of Admissions

for RIT.

I asked her,"What portion of the most recently admitted class is paying

full tuition?"

Her reply, "Practically nil. Most of our students receive aid.

Those that do are working full time and attend class at night. But they are

usually subsidized by their employers."

"Do you package preferentially?"

"Yes we have merit based scholarships for outstanding students.

But we attempt to meet the needs of each student individually."


Well there we have it. The system at RIT is set up as a

meritocracy for the most part. Those students which have proven themselves in

High School or are transfer students have a far better chance of receiving

grants and scholarships. The rest of the students will receive some sort of loan

relief. Still others will receive aid based on their financial situation. The

system is complicated and you the student are at its mercy. Remember also, you

must get admitted first before you need apply for financial aid.

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