Aid makes college more affordable than expected

Maggie Li, Features Editor

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Graphic by Ben Zhao and Maggie Li

After weeks of consideration, senior Max Weiss turned down the opportunity to attend his long-time dream school: Indiana University Bloomington. When he realized the financial strain on his family caused by sending three kids to college, he made his decision to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign accordingly.

“[One] of the larger factors of why I chose University of Illinois [at Urbana-Champaign was] because I could be getting a great education for a reasonable price,” Weiss said.

Weiss is among the growing number of students whose path to higher education has been affected because of rising tuition costs.

Sandy Baum, senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., said in a phone interview that in the past few years, college costs across the board have been rising faster than the inflation rate. Even after accounting for the change in the value of currency over time, the relative cost of college tuition is still growing.

In a phone interview, Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said students looking to reduce the cost of college should consider attending for a shorter period of time.

“Individuals with … one-year certificates in fields such as computers, electronics and engineering earn more than a substantial number of people with associate and bachelor’s degrees [in other areas],” said Carnevale. “Almost 30 percent of associate degree holders earn more than graduates with bachelor’s degrees, and almost 40 percent of bachelor’s degree holders earn more than the average person with a master’s degree.”

Baum said although the “ticket price” of college may be rising, students almost never end up paying the full amount.

“Private colleges give more financial aid, so the price that students pay is actually lower than people think it is,” said Baum. “The net cost of private colleges is growing slower than [that of] public colleges.”

Carnevale said students often are not fully informed about the long-term costs of loans, which leads to more unpaid loans and compounding interest rates, and equates to “a nightmare” for students.

“When you take out a loan, you should know what happened to graduates of that major from that college and then make your own decision,” said Carnevale. “If you want to go $160,000 in debt for a psychology degree, that’s your business. But someone should tell you you’re headed for trouble.”

According to Baum, federal loans and grants that do not need to be repaid, such as Pell Grants, are ideal for students because there are usually very few strings attached. Federal loans have an interest rate that is much lower and fixed, while the interest rate of private loans changes based on how much has been repaid. Need-based federal grants usually do not have to be repaid unless a student’s enrollment status changes.

Baum said students can find out how much they would actually end up paying after financial aid by using the net price calculator that many colleges offer on their websites.

  “Sometimes the colleges with the highest price tag actually cost the least because they give so much financial aid,” said Baum. “Apply for the best college you can attend. It can be cheaper for some to go to Northwestern [University] than [the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign].”

Baum said students should shy away from receiving financial aid in order to pursue a higher education.

“You don’t want to graduate college with $100,000 in debt,” said Baum. “[Having] $25,000 to $30,000 in debt is okay because college graduates receive a much higher starting salary [than those who did not attend college]. In the end, college is almost always a sound investment.”

Weiss said students should not only consider the cost of a school but also how they feel about the campus and the value of that college’s education before they commit.

“For students that are going into senior year next year, make sure you apply to a school that you really see yourself at,” said Weiss. “Just make sure you can imagine yourself succeeding there academically first and foremost.”

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Aid makes college more affordable than expected