Financial Aid Woes And The Burden Of College Tuition

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It’s becoming increasingly difficult for parents and students to pay for college tuition.

If it wasn’t for Pell Grants, Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) and the Education Opportunity Fund (EOF), 24-year-old Vanessa Denis would have graduated from Montclair State University with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

“My high school was a college prep school and they explained all of the options to us,” Denis said. “I probably would have gone to a community college for two years, done really well and then finished my last two years at a university if I didn’t receive the funding I did.”

As an in-state student Denis was lucky enough to have the option of staying at home with family since her aid didn’t cover room and board. During her sophomore year she decided she wanted to try out dorm living and took out a loan of $4,500 to cover the cost. But most college graduates aren’t as fortunate as Denis. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 66 percent of undergraduates received some type of student aid for the 2007-08 academic year. The average tuition, room and board for the same academic year was $17,102.

New York University Assistant Vice President of Office of Admissions, Shawn Abbott, says 60-70% of incoming freshman receive federal financial aid.

“Even though we award millions [in financial aid] each year, it’s not nearly enough for us to meet the full need of our freshman class each year,” said Abbott.

Perhaps this country is long overdue for reevaluating the rising costs of tuition.

Long gone are the days where middle-class Americans could work hard and save for their children’s education. In the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s most recent figures, a 2003-2004 study found that 70 percent of Black students had a remaining financial need after grants had been rewarded, and about 54 percent borrowed loans to meet that need. Paying for a college degree has become a burden for both the parents and their children. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree should not be a legal I.O.U. indebting young adults to the federal government for years to follow one’s education. But that is exactly what is happening.

Thankfully there is financial aid for the 66 percent of American’s who cannot pay for college out of their pockets. However, financial aid isn’t necessarily free money.  More times than not financial aid is dispersed in large sums through subsidized and unsubsidized loans. And when additional funds are needed to cover the remainder additional private loans or Parent Plus, loans are taken out to cover the rest. And not all Black students qualify for Pell Grants. Those who don’t qualify for Pell Grants or aren’t the first generation to attend college are usually left to fend for themselves in terms of securing money for school.

In “A Lesson on Wealth Pt. 2,” I wrote about the difficulties of building wealth when graduating from college already in the hole. Building wealth requires the ownership of homes, land or businesses. Paying back loans for 10-20 years is not conducive to ownership.

It is up to guidance counselors, parents, church members and mentors to assist Black youth with college preparation. Scholarships are a great way for minority students to cut tuition costs. Searching for scholarships though takes time and should be done as early as possible. Grants are also viable options to supplement scholarships. Parents should begin saving for their child’s tuition as early as the child being one month old. Through savings bonds or certificates of deposits parents can put away a set amount per month while the money accrues interest over the years. These are only a few steps to take to ensure young adults aren’t solely reliant on financial aid.

What are other helpful tips for potential college students who want to have minimum reliance on financial aid?

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