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
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
1996 on student grants, a move that education officials say
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
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
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
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
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
Shortly after my talk with Rachel Schuman I telephoned Renee
Minnich. Renee Minnich is the Assistant Director of the Office of Admissions
I asked her,"What portion of the most recently admitted class is paying
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.