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Economy limits students’ college choices

BY AMANDA McCLURE | JUNE 10, 2009 7:28 AM

The common advice imparted to high-school graduates to dream big may have been bullied by this year’s failing economy.

In a study released Tuesday the National Association for College Admission Counseling found more students say they are choosing cheaper colleges and universities over their more expensive and more prestigious counterparts.

Just over 70 percent of U.S. high schools reported more of their students would forgo their “dream school” and attend a less costly institution instead, the national study shows.

“Berkeley’s price tag was over $50,000 while the University of Iowa offered me an almost full-ride scholarship,” incoming freshmen Anna Okulist, of West Des Moines, Iowa, said. “Iowa was an obvious choice.”

At Grinnell, Director of Admissions Nancy Maly said a combination of the economy and competitive state schools are main challenges of the prestigious private college. The NACAC report showed 60 percent of respondents saw an increase in the number of students planning to enroll in public, rather than private, colleges next fall.

“Cost plays a role in every decision and if a student can get a full ride at the UI — and we can’t offer that — that can hurt us,” Maly said. “We’re always in competition with the state schools.”

But private school students seem to be bucking the trend, said Cristina Algood, a guidance councilor at Regina High School in Iowa City. St. Ambrose and Creighton — both private schools — were top choices of 2009 graduates from Regina.

Many students who have gone to private schools their whole lives are more likely to continue in colleges, she said. However, one issue is whether they can afford to stay in those schools.

Algood said she saw an increase in students applying for scholarships — and even hosted a seminar on where to find private financial aid — but added students may see less of them offered in the future.

“There were a couple of scholarships that we’ve always had that were not available this year, or they had more selective criteria for applicants,” Algood said.

Though the fate of the nation’s 3.3 million 2009 high school graduates is undecided, many have chosen public schools in an effort to save on student loans.

“There are families I’ve met that said ‘this is my child’s first choice school but we can’t close the gap between our payments and your costs,’” said Michael Barron, UI Assistant Provost of Enrollment and Director of Admissions. “When times get tight, there are choices that students have to make.”

“In this economic uncertainty, most people are taking a pause at how they’re going to finance college before taking out a second mortgage,” Barron said.

Maly, who works with prospective Grinnell students in the mid-Atlantic region, said she saw more students choosing state institutions over Grinnell because they couldn’t afford the pricier private school.

Public schools aren’t the only ones who could be seeing more applications this year. According to the recent report, 37 percent of high schools reported more students were choosing to spend their first years at a community college before moving to a larger school.

At Kirkwood Community College, application and registration numbers have reflected the dramatic increase, with more students combining the two-year and four-year experiences, said Steve Carpenter, Director of Public Information at Kirkwood.

He said: “There are two parts to achieving a college degree for a lot of students, and its more common now than in the past.”


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