Tamaqua Area High School 2012 graduate Calen Foose sits at his dining room table amid piles of papers and books, preparing for the start of his college career. He has enrolled at Lehigh Carbon Community College's Tamaqua campus. After two years there, he plans to study art at a four-year college.
His tuition at LCCC is paid for, thanks to a grant from the late John E. Morgan. But Foose, of Andreas, will still have to buy books and pay other costs. Thinking ahead, he and his parents are already laying the groundwork for paying for his post-community college education.
Foose's classmate, Emily Zancofsky of Tamaqua, is enrolled as a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she'll study speech language pathology, with a dual minor in special education and Spanish. Her parents are proud that she has earned $24,000 in scholarships to help offset the $23,600-a-year costs of college. But she'll still need to take out student loans to pay the rest of the bill.
The Foose's and Zancofsky's are among many families cobbling together savings, loans, grants and scholarships to pay for their children's college educations.
Costs, from high to low
While tuition costs for public, four-year colleges rose by about 15 percent nationwide between 2008 and 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Education, grants and scholarships dropped by the same percentage, says student loan company Sallie Mae.
Students have been scrambling: Student loan debt is expected to top $1 trillion this year, including $864 billion in federal government loans and another $150 billion in private student loan debt, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. People have defaulted on private student loans to the tune of about $8 billion.
While there has been some relief – Congress on June 29 extended the 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized Stafford Student Loans for one year, temporarily delaying the rate from doubling to 6.8 percent on July 1 – paying for college is becoming increasingly difficult.
The national average tuition cost is $6,669, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The school charging the highest tuition of public, four-year colleges is Penn State University, Main Campus, at $15,250. Tuition at PSU Schuylkill is $12,626, and at Hazleton, $12,678.
The four-year public college with the lowest tuition is Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas, where the price tag is just $430 a year.
In the realm of private, not-for-profit, four-year colleges, Connecticut College tops the list at $43,990. The national average for such schools is $21,949.
"Several factors seem to contribute to why many higher education institutions have less to offer in aid," says Haley Chitty, Director of Communications for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
Those factors include record enrollment numbers, meaning that financial aid dollars need to be stretched further than ever before; the recession and high unemployment (and underemployment), which means that more families are eligible to receive need-based aid (again financial aid dollars are being stretched further than before); and many states are cutting spending for higher education and state aid programs as part of efforts to balance their budgets, leaving students, their families and schools struggling to fill the gap.
"During the recession, many schools dipped into their reserves in order to maintain a certain level of financial aid. Many burned through their reserves so they have less money to offer students today," Chitty says.
"Unfortunately, there is no secret method for financing higher education. However, savvy families can dramatically reduce the cost of college by piecing together various forms of student aid. By doing a little homework and putting in a little work, students and families can minimize their out of pocket costs," Chitty says.
She advises saving, applying for grants and scholarships, enrolling in work-study programs and seeking tax benefits and applying for student loans.
"Maximizing all sources of aid is the best way to reduce your out of pocket costs. It is unlikely that a student will receive enough funds from a single source to fully cover the cost of college. The key is to take advantage of all the different sources of aid. Piecing these sources together takes some work, but it will be worth it in the long run," Chitty says.
For Foose, that means looking for a job to pay for books, fees and other expenses, while saving money for tuition at a four-year college. He'll find used textbooks online, and continue to live at home to save money, and strive for scholarships.
"I'm going to have to study harder than I did in high school, and I'm hoping to get internships," he says. "I know I have a lot of opportunities, from being an Eagle Scout to having the two free years at LCCC."
Foose has his heart set on New York University, but enrolling there depends on how much money he can accumulate.
His mother, Charlene Foose-Belzner, says the free tuition at LCCC "is the best opportunity there is."
For students in the Tamaqua Area School District, that gift from the late industrialist John E. Morgan is helping offset the spiraling cost of college.
Morgan, who founded the former Hometown-based J.E. Morgan Knitting Mills, died in 2001. The John E. Morgan Charitable Trust II in 2002 began the Morgan Success Scholarships program, which grants free tuition to the college for graduates of Tamaqua Area High school.
Another John E. Morgan scholarship was among those Zancofsky earned. She also earned a Schuylkill Community Foundation Scholarship; the Ella Ray Mundy Scholarship; the Diane Miller Memorial Award; the Tamaqua Education Association Award; the Tamaqua Lions Award; and the Humbert Lendin Music Scholarship.
Her education will be expensive even with the awards. To help, Zancofsky will be buying her textbooks via cheapesttextbooks.com instead of paying full price at the college book store.
"It's very costly, and it's hard to come up with the money," says Emily's mother, Lynn Zancofsky. "She's a very, very good student. This is what she worked for, to go to a good college."
Mrs. Zancofsky feels for the students whose families cannot help them.
"Children should have the opportunity to go to college, to grow and learn. But not all parents have the resources" to send them, she says.