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College affordability worsens

Loans, grants and scholarships are what Kristy Gonzalez relies on to finance her education at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Even though the college freshman has received financial aid from a number of sources, she said the money she's ...

Loans, grants and scholarships are what Kristy Gonzalez relies on to finance her education at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Even though the college freshman has received financial aid from a number of sources, she said the money she's been given is not enough to cover her numerous expenses.

"I was able to get some (financial aid). Every little bit helps," Gonzalez said. "But it really didn't add up to much. It wasn't enough to cover all of my college costs."

As a result, Gonzalez, like many other college students, must work part time to make ends meet. She said her job in MSUM's Instructional Media department helps pay tuition.

Gonzalez isn't the only college student struggling to meet the rising costs of tuition, fees, housing and books.

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In a study released Wednesday, the National Center for Public Policy and Education state that college is becoming less affordable each year for all but the wealthiest Americans.

It also indicates that tuition at public colleges and universities has been rising faster than family income in nearly every state. Tuition at four-year public institutions consumed 13 percent of family income in 1980, and by 2000, that number escalated to 25 percent.

"The costs of going to school are increasing faster than anyone can keep up with," said James Burgum, North Dakota State University senior. "This is becoming a big issue."

As NDSU's student body president, Burgum said he's heard a lot of discussion recently regarding college affordability.

Although he said students shouldn't put a price tag on the value of education, he said he recognizes that more and more students are having difficulties paying for school.

The college affordability study did find an overall increase in financial aid since 1992. But like the average family income, aid dollars haven't kept pace with the rising costs of college.

"Federal money isn't keeping up," said Kate Haugen, NDSU Dean of Enrollment Management. "As an institution, however, we're trying to make strides to help students."

In Haugen's 30 years of higher education experience, she said she's noticed a shift in the type of assistance students are receiving. "Money from the government used to be in the form of grants, now it's in the form of loans," she said.

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The study found loans accounted for 45 percent and grants for 52 percent of federal student financial aid in 1980. In 2000, loans were 58 percent of federal financial aid, while grants were 41 percent.

"Students are borrowing more money now, and leaving school with even more debt," Haugen said.

MSUM student body president Peter Hartje said the state should be more supportive of higher education if it expects students to stay in the state.

"I realize Minnesota is in the middle of a budget crisis, but we're not getting the state support we need," Hartje said.

Despite this, MSUM President Roland Barden said keeping college affordable for students of all-income levels is a top priority.

Haugen said there are a growing number of students and families who don't realize how much college costs and the debt they will acquire.

Families aren't saving and planning for college the way they used to, she added.

"This generation of young people is expecting to leave college and make $50,000 a year. We have to get people to be more realistic."

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Despite a proposed 9.75 tuition increase at MSUM and a nearly 7 percent increase at NDSU for next year, university administrators say they consider schools in this area to be a good value.

"As these things go, people should feel good," Barden said. "We offer a good education at a modest price."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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