College Communications Home
||It's a lesson
in debt; college officials try to help students control their debt load
--Maggie McGehee, Lewiston Morning Tribune
Laura Hughes, financial aid director at Lewis-Clark State College, walks a
"It's difficult as a financial aid administrator to keep balancing the
rising expense of school with the fact that I am trying to keep students out
of debt," she says.
"A lot of students are getting in over their heads in student loan debt. A
lot of students don't have a choice."
At LCSC, student fees will jump 11.84 percent to $2,852 next year, if
approved by the state's board of education.
In Moscow, University of Idaho fees will increase by 11.91 percent to $3,044
per year, also pending approval at the board's April meeting.
WSU's fees won't be decided until the May board of regents meeting, but the
increase is expected to be as high as 16 percent, bringing fees to $4,917l.
Those increases will prove especially damning for the nontraditional
students, who typically are trying to support a family, work and go to
school at the same time, Hughes notes.
"What has been the trend ... (is) it's more difficult for students to pay
those fees, even if you are on a full federal Pell grant," she says.
That's money that doesn't have to be paid back. For the rest, there are
loans, but there's a cap on the amount of federal loan money students can
receive, Hughes says.
Entering freshmen who are dependents are eligible for up to $2,625 in
federal loans, Hughes says.
Next year, that won't be enough to pay student fees, not to mention buying
books or paying for living expenses.
"It's not feasible to pay for school just on federal loans," Hughes says.
"That's part of the challenge that continues to face financial aid."
Sophomores get $3,500. Juniors and seniors can receive up to $5,500, Hughes
On the other end, married students, for example, are eligible for up to
$6,625 as freshmen, $7,500 as sophomores and $10,500 for their junior and
senior years, according to Hughes.
And there's more to cause potential students to worry.
There is a discrepancy between what the state of Idaho and the federal
government consider a full-time student. A student must take 12 credit hours
of classes a semester to be eligible for federal financial aid, but Idaho
considers a student full-time if the student takes eight credit hours of
classes a semester.
Put simply, a student taking eight hours of classes at LCSC is charged the
full-time rate of $1,275 a semester, while financial aid will be distributed
according to part-time status.
"It's very bizarre to me, having worked in financial aid in two other
states," Hughes says. She worked previously in Montana and Wyoming.
"When I first got here, I pursued it a little bit," Hughes says. "Somebody
got it past checks and balances and it has been in effect for quite a while.
It's the first time I ever heard of it."
LCSC students pay $119 per credit hour up to eight credits. So instead of
paying $952 for eight credits, LCSC charges students full-time rates of
Next year, LCSC students will pay $23 more per credit hour.
Even with that increase, a student taking eight credit hours would, if not
considered full time, pay less ($1,136) than the full-time student fee of
$1,426 a semester.
And without the difference in the definition of full time, the student would
qualify for more financial aid.
MIDDLE CLASS EXCLUDED
For low-income students, the federal Pell grant is, as Hughes puts it, "free
money" toward education.
Applicants qualify based on the family's financial need.
However, the grants are falling behind the times, Hughes says.
"This year, the Pell grant pays a maximum of $1,875 per semester, or $3,750
"Subtracting out $2,554 for just fees, and if a student is trying to go
without encumbering large debt, it doesn't take too much of a genius to see
the money doesn't last very long."
Qualifying for the Pell grant is a challenge.
In Idaho, a family of four with two working parents and one child attending
college qualifies for a Pell grant if the family income is less than $45,000
The median income for a family of four in Idaho in 2000 was $53,722.
In Washington, the same family would need to make less than $44,000 a year
in order to qualify for a Pell grant.
The median income for a family of four in Washington in 2000 was $63,568.
Even if students do qualify for the Pell grant, they will receive a maximum
$4,000 next year.
Let's see: there's that $2,852 in fees. Add an estimated $746 for books and
supplies, and that leaves $402 to pay for room and board, food,
transportation and other expenses.
The situation at UI is worse.
Next year, UI students will pay $3,044 in fees, with an estimated $1,130
needed for books and supplies.
A student attending school on a Pell grant would need to take out a loan,
get a job or find some other way just to come up with school expenses, not
to mention housing, food, transportation and other costs.
Karen McCarthy, assistant director of training for the National Association
of Student Financial Aid Administrators in Washington, D.C., said things
haven't always been that way.
"The people in the middle basically are getting loans and participating in
work study to pay for school," McCarthy says.
"That's the way it's always been, but things have changed.
"The program was set up to help the neediest students, the logic being that
middle class kids could afford to pay on their own.
"But the Pell grants haven't kept up with the increasing cost of education,
and loan limits only go up to a certain point.
"As the cost of college skyrockets, the gap (between those who can afford
college and those who need financial aid) gets larger.
"In recent years, a lot of people have complained about the middle class
(needing help financing higher education), but instead of setting up
assistance programs, the federal government set up tax credits and benefits
aimed at the working class.
"Now the complaint is that the tax benefits only help out the middle class
and ignore the lower class."