College: Tuition increasingly out of reach

College-bound seniors are reconsidering their plans to enroll in expensive private schools and are looking for alternatives in "financial safety" schools.

While parents grapple with battered stock portfolios, underwater mortgages, and uncertain job markets, many college-bound kids are reconsidering plans to enroll in pricey private schools, said Linda Matchan in The Boston Globe. More than 40 percent of high school seniors surveyed by the College Board in August reported that the economy was influencing their college choices. “Many colleges and universities are responding to these concerns by increasing their financial aid packages,” or by offering other financial incentives, such as discounted housing. Still, students are leaving nothing to chance. More kids are applying to “financial safety” schools and coming to grips with the reality that they may not end up going where they hoped to next fall.

Fortunately “price isn’t everything” when you choose a college, said Kim Clark in U.S. News & World Report. There are many public universities that make the grade but don’t break the bank. Yet not all of them are equally affordable. A recent study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education estimates that, nationally, a year of in-state tuition at an average public college costs 28 percent of a typical family’s annual income. But it also revealed “such a big variation in the tuition bills” among different education systems that some parents might want to consider moving across state lines. In Tennessee the average family can expect to pay only 13 percent of its income for in-state tuition; in Pennsylvania, it would pay a whopping 41 percent.

College-bound students should “scour the planet” for scholarship money, starting now, said Anne Kate Smith in You’ll get the best results if you target local scholarships or niche scholarships. Free websites, such as, can match scholarships with your profile—whether you’re a textile student in Philadelphia or a Loyola University student with the last name of Zolp. Be wary of scholarships that charge application fees. “It shouldn’t cost you a dollar,” Lisa Sohmer, a guidance counselor in Jackson Heights, N.Y. “Legitimate scholarships are in the business of giving money to students, not taking it away.”

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