(Source: Sharon Noguchi San Jose Mercury News, Calif. (MCT) — They passed multiple advanced placement courses, they took and retook college-entrance exams, they filled their résumés with extracurricular activities and they won the prized acceptance letters. Now many in the high school class of 2012 face the hardest test of all: how to finance the $24,000 to $60,000-plus annual cost of a college education.
Across the state, in tough conversations leading up to Tuesday’s deadline to commit to a school, successful students have run up against hard reality. They simply can’t afford the college of their dreams, or maybe any four-year college at all.
Valerie Gareth Tidball, of Oakland, dreamed of attending New York University ever since the theater bug bit her in eighth grade. She auditioned for NYU’s exclusive Tisch School of the Arts — and got one of 400 coveted acceptances. But more stunning was the financial aid letter: The cost of attendance would be $66,000, and NYU offered only $17,000 in scholarships and work-study.
“We’re looking at trying to raise $50,000 a year for her to go to school, and that is really out of the question,” for Valerie’s father, David Tidball, a schoolteacher.
He laments the quandary of middle-class families who often are encouraged to explore top-flight, top-cost universities — then must face their disappointed children. In fact, he said, “If we had known that the financial aid package was so limited, we probably wouldn’t have applied.”
escalation of college costs, the stock marketplunge that sank many college-savings accounts, the recession that ate up jobs and homes, and the sheer complexity of college financial aid all have heightened pressure. With Americans owing $1 trillion in student debt, more than U.S. credit card debt, members of Congress are clashing over how to prevent interest rates on subsidized loans from increasing this summer.
Middle-class families see unmanageable debt; poor families may see no options at all.
Martin Esquivias, of Mountain View, could be the first in his family to attend college. He was accepted at eight universities. But even with aid offers, he will fall short annually by anywhere from $3,000 for UC Santa Cruz to $10,000 for Syracuse University.
Work already fills his nonschool hours; until 10 p.m. he’s helping, unpaid, at his parents’ Mountain View restaurant. He’s hoping to major in business. “I’d like to go to Syracuse. …” His voice trails off. It seems unlikely a solution will materialize by Tuesday.
Student need has grown because of the recent wave of tuition increases at public universities, said Lisa Vasquez, who heads a college-readiness program at Woodside High. She estimates the 21 students in her program collectively face a financial gap exceeding $200,000.
Cynthia Rocha, of San Jose, started saving for her son Jonathan’s college education when he was 4. “I just told my son, go to wherever school you’re going to go to, and I’ll figure it out,” the single mom said.
But her plan stalled when she was laid off in 2010. She just found permanent work this month. Jonathan, a senior at KIPP San Jose Collegiate, was admitted to the University of San Francisco, with an aid package that leaves a gap of about $7,000. “If I have to pull it out of my 401(k), we’re going to do it,” Rocha said — but she worries about how she’ll then fund her younger daughter’s education.
Likewise, Wendy Wang, of East Palo Alto, said her parents told her, “apply where you want to, and once you get in we’ll figure it out.” Until last week she was weighing an offer from the University of Southern California — but its $4,500 annual grant wasn’t enough to offset the $60,000 cost to attend. Instead, the Menlo-Atherton High senior decided to attend UC Berkeley and major in mechanical engineering.
Still, with the cost of attending UC at more than $30,000 a year, her parents may consider a second mortgage to pay for her college.
What stops many families short is the size of the loans they face.
“Families are trying to resist taking on debt to pay for college. It’s a huge hurdle for them to get over,” said Ann Draper, director of financial aid and scholarship at UC Santa Cruz, where about 70 percent of students receive aid.
As of June, the average UCSC student debt on graduation was $17,000. But many parents now are looking at parent-student debt well exceeding $100,000.
Parents need to talk about affordability before applying to college, said Diane Keller, an independent college consultant in Livermore. Calculate what colleges call the “expected family contribution” up front, she advises.
On Friday, Woodside student Christian Cuevas was disappointed to find out he didn’t win a $3,000 scholarship to attend UC Santa Cruz or UC Santa Barbara, to study bioengineering as a pre-med student. He’s not sure how he’ll fund his $9,000 annual shortfall. His father, Bernardino Cuevas, a Redwood City gardener, supports his son’s aspirations but can’t contribute much financially.
The renewable scholarship he had hoped to receive was one of 14 offered by the Peninsula College Fund, which helps promising low-income, first-generation students. This year, applications doubled to 110, founder Charles Schmuck said. The winnowing was tough, he said: “We have 50 qualified candidates.”
Students find the scholarship quest challenging. “It’s really hard right now because there are lots of good students at my school trying to shoot for the same thing,” said Woodside senior Nicole Elsineitti, who is seeking grants so she won’t have to take on $25,000 annually in loans to attend Sonoma State. “My mom can’t afford to pay that back.”
Advisers tell parents to contact financial aid offices if the aid package falls short. Woodside High counselor Zorina Matavulj said she contacted the University of Oregon for a student who needed more aid: “We called and begged — and she can’t go. It’s heartbreaking.”
Teacher Vasquez has fruitlessly tried to reach a live person at the San Francisco State financial aid office, to inquire on behalf of students.
And NYU flatly won’t reconsider aid grants, the Tidballs said. Valerie likely will attend UC Irvine instead, lamenting, “It’s sad to be accepted in one way and denied in another.”
Come Tuesday, the deadline for accepting admission, many students reluctantly will be clicking “no” on their electronic college sign-in sites.
Aside from the enormous disappointment, Vasquez laments the waste. “We have all this human capital and potential. It’s so sad.”
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.
When seeking college aid
Suggestions from Diane Keller, a member of the Western Association of College Admission Counselors:
* Look for private colleges offering merit aid
* Consider lesser-known out-of-state colleges
* Look up public universities belonging to the Western Undergraduate Exchange, which reduce out-of-state tuition in a reciprocal agreement with California.
* Start saving for college as early as possible
* Remember that at some campuses, such as UCs and CSUs, it may take more than four years to graduate
©2012 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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