But the rising cost of tuition is also on the collective mind of America’s students and their parents, who wonder how they will afford tuition, fees, books, meals, housing, parking, and transportation, not to mention any “extras” like laptop computers, cell phones, and activity fees.
According to the College Board’s most recent annual survey, the nation’s public universities raised tuition by 14 percent in 2003, the greatest increase in more than 25 years. Tuition at American community colleges also rose 14 percent, while tuition at private universities rose six percent. The increases, the College Board noted, were largely due to cuts in state education budgets. After factoring in the increases, tuitions reached an average of $4,694 at public universities, $1,905 at community colleges, and $19,710 at private colleges. Adjusting for inflation, these amounts are more than double the cost of an education at these institutions 20 years ago.
And tuition concerns are intensified by what Suzanne Espinoza, University of Utah director of student recruitment, calls the “emotional complexities” of sending a child off to college. Has she chosen the right campus? Will she fit in and find friends? Will the curriculum be too difficult? Will we still be involved in her life? “And, of course, they worry about the money,” says Espinoza.
According to the Annual Survey of Colleges of the College Board, 2003-2004, the U came in 83rd of 96 four-year, public research extensive (formerly called “research 1”) universities listed by tuition cost. Combined tuition and fees for fall and spring semesters for a lower-division, resident, first-year student taking 12 credit hours at the U totals around $3,072. (In contrast, the three most expensive schools in that category are the New Jersey Institute of Technology [N.J.], $8,500; Rutgers [N.J.], $7,592; and Bowling Green [Ohio], $7,408.)
With the recent economic downturn, affording tuition seems to be increasingly difficult, even for families who have planned ahead. According to estimates from the 1999–2000 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, by the time they graduate from four-year public institutions, American undergraduate students will have an average of $15,375 in debt. Those who earn undergraduate degrees from four-year private institutions will have an average of $17,250 in debt. At the U, the average cumulative debt of an undergraduate student borrower in the class of 2003 was $12,400.
Kent Larson, director of financial aid and scholarships at the University, explains that as college enrollment and tuition have increased nationwide, so has the amount of financial aid awarded. But the availability of grants and scholarships—or “free” money—has not kept pace with the price of attending college. As a result, Larson notes, students and their families are turning to loans to finance post-secondary education.
Over the past decade, disbursements of loan money at the U increased 106 percent. Ten years ago, for the 1992-1993 academic year, the U certified loans for its students in the amount of $30,793,284. Of the $104,130,467 disbursed during last year, $63,516,899 was loan money. The balance of financial aid was granted in the form of scholarships, grants, and federal work-study. According to Larson, nearly half of all U students receive some form of financial aid.
Before students borrow money, Espinoza suggests they keep several issues in mind. Schools often lure freshmen with generous financial aid packages, but then offer less “free” funding and more loan money to the same students as sophomores and juniors.
“Students tell themselves that they may be able to make the $40,000 educational debt payment,” Espinoza notes. “But what are the implications? What kind of job will they have to get? How will the debt affect their other life decisions—like whether or how soon they can go to graduate school, buy a home, or start a family? Students should focus on getting the best education they can without mortgaging their future. There are many wonderful state-supported schools with reasonable tuition. Students need to compare the implications of coming out of undergraduate school with $40,000 worth of debt, and getting a world-class education without owing anyone a dime.”
College financial aid officers nationwide all repeat the same mantra: It’s never too early to begin planning for a college education.
Jenny Haug, an 18-year-old University student who received three scholarships to attend the U, agrees, and recommends that high school students consult their school scholarship offices early. “The advisors and counselors there know so much more about the opportunities because they have gone over and over them,” she says.
Larson gives pre-college students this advice: “Do well in school, work hard, search out what scholarships are available, file a FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] form, and contact financial aid offices. Become gainfully employed and build savings,” he says. “The more money students can come up with on their own, the better off they will be.”
For more information on the many scholarships that are offered at the University of Utah, go to www.sa.utah.edu/ finance/scholarships/index.htm. To speak to a financial aid representative at the University, call (801) 585-6411.
—Ann Jardine Bardsley BA’84 is a writer in the U’s
public relations office and the parent of a high school senior.