Tuition and the struggling student

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Christine Barton
Campus News

President Obama in his early days of his administration announced his vision for the country and for the future of education. In 2009, he announced a $12 billion dollar community college initiative specifically designed to improve education, boost graduation rates and create new technology. In addition to the money set aside for renovations, $9 billion will be used to award grants designed to raise graduation rates and encourage transfers to four year schools and $500 million is to be used to develop online curriculums for community colleges. The money saved from the proposed changes to the student loan programs is intended to fund this new college initiative.
Despite the President’s vision for the nation’s educational future, major cuts are being announced to public service funding all over the nation. In October 2009, Governor David Paterson announced a 4.5% cut to the higher education budget for the State of New York. A promise to make further cuts mid year has education officials in a panic. Paterson’s proposal included a $90 million mid-year cut to the SUNY systems throughout New York. SUNY has always been well known for quality and affordable education. A cut to the government funding can have snowballing effects on the educational system. The looming cuts will force students to immediately realize an increase in tuition costs.
One of the biggest issues facing education today is the shift from full-time tenure-track faculty to a more non-permanent workforce, states Cynthia Garza, spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers. Budget cuts have a direct impact on quality. Layoffs and job cuts lead to fewer resources yet the same demand. Fewer resources cause classes to become larger. Lectures and classes once offered may be cut or combined to reduce teaching resources. Professors that already often double as advisors and mentors become busier and less available to assist students on a one on one basis. Less individual attention and personal investment in students negatively affects the overall quality of education. A decline in resources means that quality begins to be watered down to meeting a minimum standard rather than upholding a mission of excellence. The bar gets lowered. Educators will be forced to find ways to make ends meet with less financial resources.
The American Federation of Teaches (AFT) is a union of professions that was founded in 1916 and currently has five divisions.  AFT represents almost 3,000 local affiliates nationwide, 43 states affiliates and has more than 1.4 million members according to its statistics. The AFT Higher Education program is one of the five divisions and represents the specific interests of higher education. The AFT has developed a specific strategic plan to focus the union’s efforts to address the current trends in higher education. According to AFT research, the data shows a significant reduction in the full-time tenured faculty and an increased reliance on part-time professors, graduate employees and non-track faculty. Non-tenured employees do not have the same professional support, fair wages and job security as do permanent employee therefore compromising the quality of higher education. The AFT plan calls for immediate action to reverse this trend and make a move to increasing permanent teaching positions and rely less on part-time and graduate faculty; 70% of the people teaching in U.S. colleges and universities today and nearly half of all undergraduate public college courses are being taught by contingent faculty.  The increased reliance on contingent instructors was found most dramatically in community colleges. Budget cuts will make reversing this trend almost impossible. According to Garza, “The significant disinvestment in our country’s higher education academic workforce is likely to worsen with more budget cuts.”
The picture is grim if budget cuts go through as planned. Budget cuts have the potential to have a drastic impact on all facets of education. “Administrators faculty and staff must really team up to make the compelling case that higher education is an investment in the states, citizens and economy,” states Garza. If cutbacks must be made, it is imperative that management involves representatives of the front-line works to work through how to do these things in a way that does the least harm to educational service.”
Budget cuts aside; it’s no secret that education is expensive. There is a distinct difference between federal aid and student borrowing; qualifying for either can be a challenge. Financial aid, loans, grants and scholarships are typical methods most students use to finance higher education. The gloomy economy makes the availability of these types of options much slimmer than in the past. Students who are lucky enough to be able to afford the entire cost of higher education without borrowing are few and far between. Many exhaust every funding option available to them to piece together the payments for their education.
Student loans are a primary source of funding for most students. Meeting the criteria for financing is a whole other ball game. The pending changes to the student loan regulations may make getting approved for and paying back loans more difficult than ever before. The anticipated budget cuts will have significant effects on students already struggle to find ways to meet their higher education costs. Garza notes that the increased tuition will also lock out students without financial means from even going to college.
According to information obtained from a report done by My Loans Consolidated in July 2009, it is estimated that currently 70% of student loans come from private lenders such as Sallie Mae; 30% of student federal loans are originated from the government. Student loan reform legislation has already been passed by the House of Representatives. If it passes the approval of the Senate, it will be expected to take effect in July of 2010. This proposal will eliminate the option for student loans to be obtained through the private sector. Loans will be awarded only through the government’s direct lending program. This new legislation is promising to lower percentage rates making loans more available and affordable for students. The national discussion on the changes in private and federal loans is still a much debated topic. This in addition to the budget cuts is sure to have significant impact on the landscape of higher education.
Financing education used to be an investment in your future. It’s a fact that the unemployment rate is at a high and the economic stability of the nation is uncertain. Financing education is becoming a risk factor. Currently student loans are awarded through either the private or public sector. Federal or public sector loans are awarded by the government. Private sector student loans are not guaranteed, there are no limits on interest rates, no guarantees that you will be awarded a loan just because you apply and there is no regulation on the charges. Typical private lenders are EduCap, Sallie Mae and Citibank. Federal loans like Stafford loans are available to all students regardless of their past credit information. The pending legislation surrounding student loans means changes in availability and affordability for students.
Sascha Zahariadis is a part-time nursing student at Maria, a two year college in Albany, New York. When asked about how budget cuts may affect her as a student she stated, “Budget cuts often mean higher tuition, more difficulty getting loans and increased book costs.” Zahariadis has attended her share of community colleges in the past. She now attends Maria as a part-time student while working full time. “The cost of education is lower in community colleges than in private schools, but the cost of books is usually higher,” she points out.
Zahariadis also notes that it is difficult to qualify for a traditional loan when you are a part-time student. She chose Maria because they are one of the only schools in her area that offers loans for part-time students. Zahariadis states that although she would rather go to school full time to finish her degree quicker she has to work full time in order to ensure that she has health insurance. College students who age off of their parent’s health insurance and do not work full time often go without health insurance or only have emergency coverage. In addition to the cost of education itself there are many hidden fees that also add up such as heath insurance, books and administrative fees. These added expenses are often out of pocket for many students.
The economic recession now entering its second year has put society in an interesting position.  The current unemployment rate is at 10% in New York State. An economy in recession typically drives more adults to college. Long periods of unemployment have given people the time and drive to return to school in the hopes of improving job skills. Unfortunately, these same unemployed people lack the money to fund their education so they look for financing options such as borrowing or financial aid. The affordability of private institutions is almost unreachable, which pushes people towards furthering their education in community colleges or trade schools.
Recent reports show that enrollment at two-year schools are on the rise and have been for the past 10 years. The demand for skilled workers continues to rise, keeping enrollments steady. A poor economy motivates people to invest in their future through continuing education. Despite the rise in enrollment, many states across the nation have felt the sting of looming funding cuts because of the declining economy.
Budget cuts affect the institutions’ ability to meet the demand of increasing enrollment and the students’ ability to afford their education. If the budget cuts that threaten the state become a reality, students are sure to be caught in the crossfire. “We are already seeing the impact hitting colleges and universities including lay-offs, cancelled classes, increased class size and higher tuition,” states Garza. “These things all impact the students.”

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