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College tuition rising as the economy sinks

Posted by gradefund on December 5, 2008

College tuition rising as the economy sinks

By Jaclyn Cohen

Issue date: 11/21/08 Section: News
The average cost of tuition at a private university has increased 5.9 percent this year, according to a study published in The New York Times.

Add this to the fact that the economy has been steadily declining over the past two months and it’s no wonder that paying for college has become an important issue for both Lehigh and the nation.

As students examine their financial situations, many are looking to President-elect Barack Obama to see what help the new administration will provide to those who find themselves in trouble. Even before the economy took a turn for the worse in September, the cost of college was an important issue on the campaign trail.

A National Education Association report released in September said 34 percent of the college students it surveyed ranked college affordability as the most important issue in the presidential election, while 78 percent of those surveyed believed that college is much harder to afford now than 10 years ago. The findings were based on interviews with 825 likely voters.

Both Obama and Sen. John McCain released plans during the campaign to reduce the pressure on those paying for school. During the campaign, Obama proposed a $4,000 tuition tax credit in exchange for community service in an effort to make college more affordable. He also proposed an increase in the funding of Pell Grants, federal grants intended to help those from low-income families.

Obama also wants to streamline the financial aid process by eliminating the current federal application and allowing families to check a box on their tax form that allows the information from their tax forms to be used to apply for financial aid.

There has been talk among lawmakers about where the money to increase funding would come from, in the face of the current economic situation.

Some students are also questioning how much the new administration will pay attention to student debt and the rising cost of college with all the other problems facing the country.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t one of the first things Obama dealt with, since there are so many other important things happening,” said Stacey Reich, ’10.

For many Lehigh students, financial aid is the key to easing the burden of college tuition. According to the Financial Aid Office, more than 50 percent of Lehigh students receive financial aid of some sort, and this year alone the university will provide more than $50 million in grants and scholarships.

“We have a robust financial aid program,” said Linda Bell, director of financial aid. “Last year we added two new initiatives for lower income families.”

Because applications for financial aid are not due yet, Bell cannot say if more students than usual will be applying for financial aid, but she said there has been an increase in the number of people inquiring about financial aid and the application process.

“I’ll be applying for financial aid,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “I never had to in the past, but the bad economy has really affected my family. I’m worried that I’m not going to get it because of what my family’s situation used to be.”

In addition to hurting the families of students, the financial downturn has hit Lehigh’s wallet, costing the school $202 million since June, according to a Nov. 7 Brown and White article. This has led some students to worry that the school might not be able to provide as much to students, at the time when many need it most.

“If the school loses money, I wonder if they will be able to give people financial aid, especially if more people start applying than usual,” Reich said.

Some students are also worrying about the long term repercussions the financial crisis will have on the school’s ability to attract and aid students.

Victoria Vityuk, ’09, said while she isn’t too worried because she’s a senior, she thinks the school should be concentrating on helping underclassmen with financial aid problems.

“The school got a huge gift last year – they should be using that to help people pay for school,” Vityuk said, referring to a $34.2 million donation given to the school in May.

While there is no doubt the financial crisis has hurt Lehigh, Bell said it should not affect financial aid, at least in the short run.

“We won’t be adding any new programs this year, but we won’t be dropping any either,” Bell said.

Bell said the financial aid budget is designed on a three-year sliding scale that is designed to absorb financial changes.

“We’re conservative,” Bell said. “We’re not spending every penny we have so we can accommodate for changes.”

Because not all Lehigh students who need financial assistance qualify for scholarships or grants, the financial aid office has been working with the bursar’s office to create a list of talking points for students and their families. The information would help guide students through the different channels available for financing their education.


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