WASHINGTON -- After a decade of soaring tuition costs, counselors say that students and parents are approaching the college-selection process with a far sterner eye on finances. More students are considering state universities and are applying for merit scholarships.
"We are seeing a trend of staying in-state and going to state institutions, especially those families who can't qualify for a full financial-aid package," said Regina Manley, a coordinator of activities for college-bound students in the Chicago public schools.
The financing problem intensified during the 1980s, when college administrators found themselves facing a shrinking market as a result of the birth dearth of the late 1960s and early 1970s and a potentially sharp decline in revenues, to boot.
Instead of reducing tuition prices, many colleges sought to compete for more students by improving their services -- hiring better faculty members, increasing the maintenance of grounds and buildings and expanding student support services,
consultant Arthur Hauptman said.
As a result, the 1980s saw an explosion in tuition and other charges at the nation's colleges.
In 1980, for example, the average cost for undergraduate tuition, room and board at the nation's public colleges was $2,422; for private schools, it was $6,570. By 1989, those figures had risen to $5,566 and $15,365, respectively.
Meanwhile, Congress has cut back sharply on federal grants, forcing many more students who traditionally have benefited from federal scholarships to rely on student loans instead.
The change has been significant. In 1982, for example, students at 42 of the nation's leading black colleges had amassed some $27 million in student loans; by 1988, that number had almost doubled, to $52 million.
"People looking for financial assistance are no longer the needy poor," said Frank Burtnett, the executive director of the National Association of College Admission Counselors. Now, he said, "needy as it relates to higher education can be middle-class people."