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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For many families, the really scary thing about college is the price tag

Students face tuition sticker shock 

Forget worries about moving away from home and the Freshman 15. For many families, the really scary thing about college is the price tag.

“A lot of kids are nervous,” said Twiana Collier, coordinator of student financial aid for the Aldine Independent School District. “The cost of tuition is skyrocketing.”

She and other experts say financial assistance is available, in the form of grants, scholarships and subsidized student loans. That's true even for middle-class families, who often don't apply because they assume they won't qualify.

But you have to start early.

The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, available online at Do it now, even if the student hasn't received an acceptance notice.

“Submitting it doesn't guarantee you will get aid, but not submitting it guarantees you won't,” said Kristen Campbell, director of college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.

Nationally, tuition and fees cost an average of $7,020 this year, not including room and board. It will be higher next fall.

Texas' public universities haven't set tuition rates for 2010-11, but most say they will keep increases below 4 percent, as suggested by the Legislature. Some other states will raise it far more, including Florida, where a 15 percent jump has been proposed, and California, where tuition will increase more than 30 percent.

Tuition became a political issue in Texas after the Legislature gave schools the power to set their own rates in 2003.

The recession, and especially, higher unemployment, have heightened the concern.

A recent survey of college freshmen conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles found that two-thirds were worried about their ability to pay for their education. And 45 percent said the financial aid offer was “very important” in deciding which college they will attend.

Policy makers are listening. President Barack Obama's proposed budget includes more money for Pell Grants, the main financial aid program for low-income students, as well as for research, much of which is awarded to universities.

He also proposed a $10,000 higher-education tax credit and a plan to limit how much students have to repay in student loans.

During boom times, universities increased financial aid to attract the best students, but it's not clear how much aid will be available next fall.

Endowments are down, as are donations, both of which could affect how much schools can offer.

Houston Baptist University began notifying prospective students of financial aid awards this month, earlier than usual.

“We know students are more price sensitive,” said James Steen, vice president for enrollment management.

Applications for next year are up about 15 percent, he said, but he expects a smaller percentage of those who are accepted to actually enroll as families struggle with the cost of a private school. Tuition at HBU will be $21,970 next year.

The school also will increase financial aid. Some schools have dropped merit-based financial aid to focus on the neediest students, but Steen said that HBU considers both.

“Obviously, the higher the test score, the higher their GPA and class rank, the more we give them in the form of a scholarship or a grant,” he said.

Most schools saw big jumps this year in the number of students asking for financial aid.

The University of Houston-Downtown offered more than $100 million in financial aid for 2009-10, although not everyone who received an offer ultimately enrolled, said Rob Sheridan, executive director for special projects and financial aid.

“I would suspect those numbers will only increase,” he said.

But families who wait too long might be out of luck.

Each university sets a priority date for requesting aid. Applications received after that move to the end of the line.

“Once that priority deadline is hit, it will be gone,” Sheridan said.

People shouldn't be scared off by worries that they won't qualify or that the online application is too complicated, he said.

Help is available

Debora Cervantes is proof that persistence pays off.

Cervantes, 23, will graduate from UH-Downtown in May with a degree in accounting.

Her family couldn't afford to help, so she helped herself.

She was born in Austin but grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, and persuaded her family to return to the United States so she could attend college.

“I was new to the country and the system of education,” she said. “I went to the financial aid office and asked a lot of questions.”

She applied for grants and cobbled together scholarships to cover other costs.

Cervantes will graduate without any debt. “Just keep a clear goal of what you're trying to accomplish,” she said. “You want to be in school and keep up your grades.”

Steve Wagasky, College Funding Consultant
College Planning Professionals

Monday, February 8, 2010

Professionally Planning for College Now Leads to Peace of Mind Ahead

I recently ran across the following news article of which I wanted to share with all of you as well. 

Planning for College can be an incredibly stressful event for the entire family causing this momentous life event to potentially become at times something to dread rather than, as it should be, excitedly anticipate and look forward to.

Our mission at College Planning Professionals is to ease the burdens, stress and all other negative factors associated with College Planning.  Being able to create an atmosphere of excitement for the future college student and peace of mind for the parents throughout the process is our area of expertise and not to mention what we love to do ...

Double Take: Teens, parents need early talk on college planning

College choices. Where to go? In or out of state? JUCO or four-year? Private or public? Lay out a year or head to campus in the fall? What about tech schools, beauty schools, etc.? It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of newly minted adults rolling through their final semester in high school. But now is the time for final decisions.

I’ve never seen late teens and young adults so interested in the age-old question: What do I really want to be when I grow up? That’s a great way to start deciding what to do in the fall. Kids don’t have to have it all figured out just yet, but spending some time on the issue right now can save a lot of wasted time later. Parents need to be careful with their opinions on career and college choice. Many a teen has gone along with a parent’s wishes, signed up for engineering or architecture or education, only to realize by junior year how much they really hate that kind of work. On the other hand, parents have good reason to urge teens toward degrees that can generate some revenue down the road. I strongly recommend high school seniors take a look at the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics occupational outlook handbook ( It lists literally everything you could imagine about every career you can imagine, especially employment predictions.

Families are also cautious about finance this year. For many, budget may be everything, especially if there are two or three teens coming up the ranks. So families need to plan for about six or eight fallback strategies.

In making final selections from a (hopefully long) list of possibilities, teens and families should emphasize the fit between student and school. I recommend Loren Pope’s “Colleges that Change Lives.” Even if you don’t choose one of her 40 top picks, the book helps kids start thinking about this issue.

Samantha: I’d like to start off my column this week by running the risk of being shunned by most of the city of Lawrence. I’m here to make the case that my peers should think twice about going to KU. Many go there because they think they can’t afford to go elsewhere. But let’s take a look at the numbers. According to the Web sites of Harvard University and the College Board:

One year KU tuition + room and board = $15,000 (Average debt at graduation is $20,000)

• One year Harvard tuition + room and board if your income is less than $60,000 = free (No debt at graduation)

• One year Harvard tuition + room and board if your income is $60,000-$180,000 = no more than 10 percent of income (Average debt at graduation is $11,000)

• I know what you’re thinking; not all students can attend Harvard. But there are more than 700 private colleges in the U.S. Public schools are making huge cuts, and that means less money to give out in financial aid. It also can mean that classes are eliminated, making it harder to complete a major and graduate in just four years. (Add another $15,000 to the bill.) Many private schools, on the other hand, are still receiving generous donations from alumni. It’s not impossible to send your teen out of state and stay on budget.

Private school or not, I’d like parents to rethink sending their children right up the hill to KU. Sure, it is a good college at a decent price. But there’s more to college than the academics. College is about developing beliefs and attitudes that extend beyond the influence of parents. How can teens grow into adults when they’re still bringing home heaping piles of laundry for Mom to take care of every weekend? Or when Dad is always just a 20-minute drive away from rescuing them?

Even the students who don’t come “home” for the weekend are still living in their hometown. They will automatically feel most comfortable with their high school friends and may limit opportunities to meet new friends and try new things. College is a great time to start understanding the diversity of people and situations we’ll all face later in life. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is important for learning these lessons.

College Planning Professionals

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Free College Planning Workshop, Rockford, Michigan

Presented by Steve Wagasky of College Planning Professionals

Don't miss out on this extremely popular FREE workshop series ... If you are the parent of a Sophomore, Junior or Senior, come learn the "insiders‟ secrets and strategies ...

"Learn strategies that will help you get the best deal on a college education for your child."

Time: 7:00PM Thursday, February 11th
Location: Rockford High School

Are you eligible to receive financial aid?

How to pick colleges that will give you the best financial aid packages.

How to attend a private school for less than a state school.

What assets are taken into consideration to calculate your EFC.

How to get ahead by developing a customized plan to meet all the college costs you will incur as a family.

How to lower your "out-of-pocket" costs and get the maximum amount of money from each school.

Steve Wagasky, College Funding Consultant
College Planning Professionals