Economic crunch creates greater need for financial aid

By Alissa Groeninger

The ongoing turmoil in the economy will make paying for college more difficult.

University economics professor Anil Bera said the indirect effects of the market’s troubles will require more students to apply for financial aid. This adds to the increasing number of families that have turned to financial aid in the last few years, Bera added.

Federal data released in July revealed that 16 percent more students applied for federal financial aid for the 2008-2009 school year than did one year ago. As a result, the United States Department of Education announced that Congress needs to add $6 billion to Pell Grant funding, which has been the most significant source of aid for lower-income students.

Otherwise, Congress will need to cut the amount each applicant is awarded.

“It’s definitely a national phenomenon,” said Claude Walker, spokesperson for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which helps students receive higher education despite financial burdens.

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    While Illinois experienced an almost 16 percent increase in students who applied for financial aid this school year, the University has not seen a significant increase, said Bob Anderson, senior associate director for the financial aid office.

    However, the crisis has the power to affect the University, and more students may need to apply for financial aid next year, he added.

    Anderson said the University has not seen much of an increase because there has not been a change in the number of students enrolled.

    Also, the students attending the University come from more affluent backgrounds than the majority of students attending other public institutions in Illinois.

    Bera said rising food and gas prices, combined with the highest unemployment in the country since 2003, has forced people to find financial alternatives to pay for education. He added that 600,000 people have lost their jobs this year.

    “Families are feeling the crunch,” Anderson said.

    Walker said tuition increases in public, private and community colleges across the country have forced more students to turn to other financial options. Between the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school year, the average public university in Illinois has raised tuition from $7,100 to $7,800 per semester.

    More students are applying for financial aid because more people are attending college, Bera said. He said this will benefit the country in the long run when there are more college graduates in the work force; however, the positive effects will not be evident for years.

    Walker said 7,000 to 10,000 more students enter into Illinois’ public universities every year because the state’s population is growing and the emphasis on attending college has increased.

    “(There is) a growing awareness of how important a college degree (is),” Walker said. “You almost have to have a degree.”

    Families have not saved enough to support students’ education, Walker said. Students are having trouble affording college because their guardians did not save early enough, he added.

    “People just (have) to wake up and start planning sooner. otherwise students are going to have huge debts,” Walker said.