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Rising costs leave some casualties


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POSTED: Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pengyu Li, a senior at Kaimuki High School, has racked up a remarkable record, winning nine different scholarships in his quest to cover the $50,447 cost of his first year at Northeastern University in Boston.

               

     

 

DEBT DOUBLES

        Student borrowing has doubled in a decade (in constant 2007 dollars):
       

» 1997-98: $41 billion

       

» 2007-08: $85 billion

       

Source: “;Measuring Up 2008,”; National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

       

 

       

But he's still $5,000 short. And he doesn't know how he's going to manage the second year, since several scholarships are not renewable and his family's annual income is less than the cost of a year at Northeastern.

“;The money situation is really tough right now,”; said Li, who hopes one day to open his own information-technology company. “;I was fortunate to get all these scholarships and pull it off. I'll be fine for the first year. Then I've got to figure out the later years.”;

As the class of 2009 prepares to don their mortarboards, the cost of college and the shaky economy are forcing some graduates to give up their dreams of going away to college and leaving others anxious about how they'll ultimately pay for it.

A study released in December, “;Measuring Up 2008,”; shows that college costs have outstripped even the rise in health care costs. College tuition and fees have shot up 439 percent since 1984, while median family income grew just 147 percent and the overall consumer price index rose by 106 percent. Medical costs increased 251 percent over that period.

“;What's happened, especially in this decade, is that for most families in this country, income has been pretty flat and tuition has gone up,”; said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in San Jose, which published the study. “;We've made it harder and harder for families and students to pay. I think we're kind of on a collision course.”;

In the last decade, student debt has doubled, the study shows.

“;The middle class has been financing higher education on credit, and the lower-income groups have not been increasing their rate of attendance at all,”; Callan said.

The recession is only making things tougher. While counselors at local high schools say they haven't seen a dramatic change over last year, some students are choosing to stay home and attend community college or other local institutions. Financial-aid packages include more unsubsidized and parent loans than before, counselors say.

Michelle Baron, a senior at Roosevelt High and captain of the speech and debate team, knew that the cost of college would be a problem, so she applied to small liberal arts schools on the West Coast that were known for giving good scholarships. The best financial aid she got came from Chapman University in Orange, Calif., but it fell way short of her needs.

She received a dean's scholarship worth $12,000 and a Chapman grant of $8,900. But tuition, room and board at Chapman total $45,000 a year. Baron's father died two years ago, and she and her younger sister rely on their mother's income as a nurse, so filling that dollar gap was insurmountable.

“;We were just disappointed; this is the best offer I got?”; she said. “;It's not really worth it. Most of it was loans, and you're going to have to pay them back.”;

Instead, Baron will be attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She can live at home to save money, and the tuition costs will be cushioned with three $1,000 scholarships she won from the university, the Mamoru and Aiko Takitani Foundation and the Roosevelt Alumni Association.

“;I'm still grateful that I can go to UH, especially this year,”; she said, given the economic situation.

Local community colleges and universities are seeing an upswing in interest from students like Baron, as well as older people who may be returning to school because of the tough job market. The number of Hawaii residents already registered for this fall at all University of Hawaii campuses is running 19 percent ahead of last year at this time, unofficial figures show, according to Mia Noguchi, UH director of public relations. Private institutions in the state are also seeing increases.

“;We've had record applications from the Class of 2009 here in Hawaii,”; said Scott Stensrud, vice president of enrollment management at Hawaii Pacific University. “;Our local high school enrollments have been increasing over the past several years, and I think with the recession, that really just pushed it even more than we could have anticipated.”;

Applications to HPU from Hawaii rose more than 8 percent from 2008 and 2009, and registrations for this fall for freshmen from Hawaii are also running about 8 percent above last year. Hawaii Pacific's tuition, at less than $15,000, is a relative bargain compared to private universities on the mainland.

At Kaimuki High, post-high school counselor Lei Kudo said she had more people coming in to fill out financial-aid applications this year—and they're still coming.

“;I have three or four appointments this week from parents needing help with that, for students going to community colleges here and on the West Coast,”; she said. “;As the reality comes closer, they realize they're going to need financial aid.”;