Less money, mo’ problems

By on November 3, 2008

By Paige Quiggins

For students like Dustin Littrell, the University of Louisville financial aid office has become a port in the economic storm America is suffering under.
Littrell said that he was burdened by the cost of not only tuition but the rising cost of food and gas during his first semester as a freshman. Thanks to a full Monday through Friday course load as well as nine hours a day at an outside job, Littrell said he was exhausted from the work.
“I studied every hour I wasn’t at work,” Littrell said. “I just graduated high school and it was a shock anyway. I had too much on my plate.”
In order to ease his troubles, Littrell took out a Stafford loan to cover the cost of school. Now a sophomore, he said he is doing better only working part time with more of chance to focus on his studies.
“I don’t have to worry about where I am going to find five-to-six thousand dollars for school this year,” Littrell said. “It was a relief from stress. I’m struggling, but who isn’t struggling right now?”
A report released by the College Board shows that situations like Littrell’s are not unique. The report found that the average cost of tuition at public four year institutions increased 6.4 percent to $6,585 this past year.
As the cost of college goes up, the report indicated that student aid has as well, with graduate students and undergraduates receiving more than $143 billion in financial aid. 
Despite budget cuts, Financial Aid Director Patricia Arauz said that student aid has actually increased at U of L over the past year. Arauz reported the banks increased the available amount for Stafford loans by $2,000 this year.
According to Vice President for Finance Michael Curtin, financial aid is a “high strategic priority” for the university and said the financial aid escalator, designed to continually increase each year to match tuition increases, is a key element in the continued success.  This year $4,177,585 was allocated for the 2008-2009 budget, with $3,324,600 coming from the escalator.
But students remain anxious about the possibility of taking on more debt as well the job market they will face once they get out of school.
Dee Graham, a senior psychology major and former government employee believes many graduates do not always go into their degree fields. Graham, also a Stafford loan recipient, isn’t worried about re-entering the job market, but feels that other students without previous job experience could find it to be a problem.
“They want experience along with a degree,” Graham said. “How are you going to have the experience if you have never worked?”
Because of the current economic problems, some like junior English major Jessica Wade are “nervous and scared” to enter the job market. 
“Photojournalism, the field I want to go into, is competitive and it’s hard to earn a decent living,” Wade said. 
Littrell also said the state of the economy has encouraged him to change his field from a marketing focus to management. 
“Management is more stable,” Littrell said. “The marketing department is the one that gets let go first.  One man I got advice from had a marketing degree and became a fireman.”
Wade also has a part time job and receives tuition remission from having both parents work at U of L, something she is very grateful for.
“I can definitely support my living situation, but I wouldn’t be going to school if I didn’t have that opportunity with my parents,” Wade said. “Schooling is not affordable in Kentucky in general.”
For students to reduce their amount of debt, Arauz suggested filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or applying for a loan, as opposed to opening up or using a credit card.  Arauz advises students to pay off credit card debt with a loan because the interest is lower and “loans have 6.8 percent interest while most credit cards require 15 percent or more interest.” 
Curtin also reported that 39 percent of Kentucky students fill out a FAFSA, but encourages all students to do it because “there could be financial aid that [students] don’t know about.”
Littrell, like many others, says he is trying to be savvy and not use the loan to fund unnecessary expenditures. 
 “I want to pay for school and minimize the amount I spend so I can pay it back two to three years after I graduate,” Littrell said.
Littrell also said that receiving this assistance has been a great relief.
“I was glad I got to know how much help I had,” he said.

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