High school graduation invitations are in the mail as cap and gown season begins, yet many families that have planned well for future college expenses have watched stock-based holdings shrivel with the market over the last several months. Coverdell Education Saving Accounts, Roth IRAs and 529 college saving plans have likely declined, making it more important than ever to consider every college financing option on the table.
One of the first questions students ask me is whether financial aid is available. The answer is of course yes, but the credit crunch and dip in investment income for colleges have impacted the financial aid situation at many schools. Earlier this year, Harvard University announced that it was trimming 50 employees from its investment staff after its $36.9 billion endowment lost 22 percent of its value. Ivy League schools aren't the only ones hit. A survey done for the National Association of College and University Business Officers reported that college endowments fell on average 23 percent in the five months wrapping up November.
Why is this important? Endowments may not only pay for faculty and facilities but grants and scholarships for bright students. The demand for scholarship and grant funding obviously goes through the roof when students have a hard time finding affordable school financing. Unfortunately, colleges are not always able to offer sufficient amounts of funding through Perkins, Stafford, and Plus federal education loans. Award amounts will also vary depending on whether students are independents or remain dependents of their parents.
Private student loans through banks have somewhat dried up with the credit nightmare. A number of college students get in a mess with debt because they are oblivious to the fact that for-profit companies who advertise access to federal loans may obtain financing from private sources at a cost that far exceeds that of federal loans.
Most schools have an office of financial aid that can help students/parents sift through proper loan alternatives and explore grants, scholarships, student employment options, and even veteran's services. The first step to obtain financial aid is always submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, but additional paperwork is often necessary for scholarships. Over the years I've begged students to apply for university scholarships by writing a report or filling out a form and generally only a handful will make the effort. Many students that make the effort are rewarded.
Community groups and professional organizations are also an excellent source for scholarships. Amazingly, I serve on boards where year after year only one applicant bothers to apply for scholarship consideration. Competition may be stiff these days, but students might be surprised at the resources available.
While determining available resources, a good tactic is to get a handle on what the tentative college expenses will be. A budget template for college students may be found at http://www.aie.org/Calculators/budgetworksheetinschool.cfm.
Freshman year also isn't the best time to start learning to use a bank account or credit card. It is true that a teen doesn't build a credit history as an authorized user on a parent's card, but it is still a good tool to use while under a parent's watchful eye. Advance planning can mean all the difference in the world between an affordable debt load when a student graduates and potential financial ruin.