Colleges scramble to help cash-strapped students
Many students need extra aid to pay spring-semester tuition.
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But that's still not enough. "Unfortunately, we have had significant numbers of students who have stopped and said, 'I'm going to try to come back in the fall,' " says Arlene Cash, Spelman's vice president for enrollment management. "We're working hard to find ways to support them."Skip to next paragraph
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A number of schools have also announced tuition and financial-aid plans early in the cycle, hoping prospective students won't give up altogether on the idea of college. Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., and Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., for instance, are freezing tuition for the coming year.
Ohio State leaders pledged that if tuition goes up, financial aid will go up proportionately. "We're trying to get the word out to the community broadly that you can't afford not to go to college and that there's all kinds of help available," says Martha Garland, vice provost for enrollment services and dean of undergraduate education.
Manchester College in Indiana wants to ease concerns about affordability by offering a "Triple Guarantee": Academically strong low-income students from Indiana will receive grants to cover any gaps after federal and state aid is received; students will graduate in four years, or they can get a fifth year of classes for free; and if they don't land a job within six months of graduating, they, too, can have a free year of classes.
The four-year graduation guarantee is "addressing a cost of college that lots of families don't consider – that fifth or sixth year" that is fairly common at some institutions, says Manchester executive vice president Dave McFadden.
Despite these efforts, it's understandable if families aren't so upbeat. Many public universities are anticipating tuition spikes in the wake of state budget cuts. Nearly half of publics and 7 percent of privates plan to raise tuition for the coming year at a rate higher than the past three-year average, the Chronicle/Moody's survey found. And in a December survey by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, 8 percent said they had frozen or cut financial-aid budgets, or plan to.
College affordability "is a true middle-class crisis now," Mr. Giannino-Racine says. Waves of students who used to take the private four-year route are shifting to public and community colleges. In turn, students with less competitive backgrounds could be pushed out of college altogether, he and others say.
Higher-education officials are hopeful that as part of the economic stimulus package, Congress will increase Pell Grants for low-income students and infuse cash into states so that they can avoid deep cuts to public universities. House leaders have outlined a $15.6 billion increase in Pell Grants as part of their proposal to help higher education.