Families Still Finding Ways to Pay for College
Andrea Castillo | The Macon Telegraph, Ga.
After spending nearly 10 years working with cars in some capacity – as an automotive technician beginning at the age of 14, and later as a car salesman – Shaun Franks is now a full-time student at Macon State College’s Warner Robins campus, studying to become a teacher.
Following a dream, the 23-year-old finally took the plunge after saving money for years and experiencing the fluctuations of the automotive market.
“A lot more people are going back,” he said. “A lot more people are getting their degrees.”
Franks is one of thousands of Middle Georgia college students driving up enrollment numbers in area schools this year. Coinciding with the economic downturn, financial considerations are playing a major part in their academic decisions – from taking out loans to continue their studies, to enrolling in colleges with lower tuition costs.
Franks has already earned 50 credit hours from attending Georgia Southwestern State University but he left school and moved to Middle Georgia from his hometown of Americus to take a job working at Timco Aviation Services in Macon.
“I was ready to get out of a small town,” he said. “Everyone says that, but not everyone does that.”
Franks also wants to follow in the footsteps of his family. His sister is an English teacher and his mother a nursing alumna of Macon State College.
Currently, he pays for tuition with a combination of credit cards and the help of his mother. He is not eligible for financial aid until he turns 24 in November because last year he earned more than the $25,000 cutoff.
LESS EXPENSIVE OPTIONS
Though loans are a fact of life for many students and their families, a Sallie Mae poll conducted by Gallup in August revealed that 58 percent of families paid for college last year without borrowing any money. Among American families, 51 percent received grants and scholarships, 25 percent secured federal loans, 12 percent took out private education loans and 5 percent used credit cards to pay for college expenses, according to the survey.
Additionally, 67 percent of the families surveyed were confident in their ability to meet the costs for college in the current economy, according to the report.
One element contributing to the results from those surveyed is the decision of students to attend less expensive schools, cited by 48 percent of families as a cost-saving measure.
Local students such as Charles Johnston, 18, a freshman computer science and electrical engineering student at Macon State College in Warner Robins, are doing just that.
Despite being accepted to Louisiana State University, Johnston decided to complete his first two years at Macon State to save on out-of-state tuition costs. He plans to transfer to LSU afterward.
In doing so, he estimates that attending Macon State will cut his tuition costs by about 75 percent.
Technical schools provide another affordable way to build job skills in the market, said Janet Kelly, marketing & PR coordinator at Middle Georgia Technical College. Students there utilize options such as HOPE Grants and HOPE Scholarships, as well as Pell Grants and work study jobs.
Technical schools and colleges don’t offer loans, since their per-credit cost is considerably lower than at a public college or university in Georgia, Kelly said.
“A lot of people have an easier time financially at technical schools because we do have all these options available,” said Kelly.