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College students vie for shrinking supplies of aid Some Md. schools say the demand is unprecedented

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the scramble to pay fall tuition bills, many college students and their parents are making an unhappy discovery -- there isn't much money left to go around.

With the economic slump forcing record numbers of students to apply for aid, several state colleges report an unprecedented demand.

The University of Maryland at College Park scaled back the amount given to each needy student by hundreds of dollars. The rationing, intended to spread the money around to more people, means students will have to get by without frills such as new clothes or campus entertainment, said an official there.

"There's a lot more need out there, that's very clear," said Marilyn Leuthold, director of financial aid at Towson State

University, which ran out of its own scholarship money at the beginning of June, with a huge stack of applications still coming every day.

At Coppin State College, "more people than ever" won't get financial help from the college this year, predicted financial aid director Ronald Smith.

The State Scholarship Administration in Annapolis has been flooded with a 29 percent increase in the number of applicants this year. The General Assembly approved a 22 percent increase in state scholarship funds, which means a lot of students aren't getting as much as they would like.

Even students with serious financial difficulties are having a difficult time finding grants and scholarships.

Consider Thuan Truong, an 18-year-old graduate of Randallstown High School, who would seem to be the ideal candidate for financial aid. His father, a Vietnamese immigrant, has been out of work for nearly a year, and his mother draws a modest salary.

But there will be no grants for Mr. Truong to attend the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.

Even so, Mr. Truong will go to college.

He will live at home, take out roughly $16,000 in loans over four years and work as many as 20 hours a week in a video store.

"I was surprised that I didn't get some sort grant or something," Mr. Truong said. "I thought we would qualify."

Robert Jackson, 21, is still trying to figure out how he will pay his fall bills at Morgan State University.

"I'm still doing a little wheeling and dealing, lining up these scholarships I may be eligible for," Mr. Jackson said.

A 1989 graduate of Walbrook High School, Mr. Jackson lives with his sister and gets no financial help from his parents. He scoffs at the suggested parental contribution that appears on computer-generated financial aid forms.

"It's like, 'Jeez, where is that going to come from?' " he said. "There's no way I could have that."

Mr. Jackson decided to transfer to Morgan State from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1990 to cut his expenses.

He also dropped out of school for a semester to join the Naval Reserves, a strategy he thinks might help him pay for school.

Even though he can live at home while attending Morgan State, Mr. Jackson expects to finish school owing some $10,000.

For many students, loans are the only answer.

"The good news is, if there's a willingness to borrow, the money ought to be there," said Robert J. Massa, executive director of academic services at the Johns Hopkins University. "The bad news is that the grant programs . . . aren't keeping pace."

Many students are understandably reluctant to accumulate huge debts even before they venture forth into an uncertain economy.

Coppin State College officials actually discourage students from taking large loans, fearing that too many graduates will default and bring federal penalties on the school, according to Mr. Smith of Coppin's financial aid office.

Shannon Yunkun isn't complaining about her loans.

The daughter of two Laurel professionals, Ms. Yunkun last year had no trouble paying her freshman bills at Towson State University. That was before her father was laid off and her mother had health problems that kept her out of work for several months.

Now, Ms. Yunkun, 19, scoops frozen yogurt by day, works in a restaurant at night and is on a first-name basis with the people in the Towson State financial aid office.

After months of worrying, Ms. Yunkun has found the money to return to Towson next month for her sophomore year. She received a state scholarship, got a little money from the school and a small grant from the federal government.

She also expects to owe some $10,000 in loans when she graduates.

"We were just up the creek," Ms. Yunkun said. "But, I'm really happy. I'm really happy with the support I've received."

No one knows how many students for the first time find themselves scrambling for financial aid because of economic problems. But all Maryland campuses report seeing those students again and again.

One returning Towson State student has redone his application three times, once when his mother was laid off, once when his father was laid off, and a third time after his mother suffered serious medical problems with no health insurance, Ms. Leuthold said.

"We're not cut off from the real world," said Ulysses S. Glee, director of student aid at College Park. "Every kid here is &L; connected to a family, and the family is connected to the economy somehow."

By cutting back on the size of grants for all students, College Park officials have been able to offer some help to about 9,400 students so far this year, compared to about 8,000 at this time last year, Dr. Glee said.

There have been some complaints from students. But, Dr. Glee said: "Everybody realizes these are tough times. Everybody has to do more with less."

The reduced grants, Dr. Glee said, mean students will just have to be frugal -- "buy your clothes at discount stores, cut out the movies."

The amount of state and federal money available for scholarships has climbed steadily the last few years. But it has not been enough, according to Dallas Martin, head of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators in Washington.

"We just have not seen the increases in the programs the last few years," Dr. Martin said, "to keep up with the increasing costs we're facing, as well as the reduction in families' incomes."

So many students are looking for financial aid that even one of Baltimore's "last resort" scholarship funds, the CollegeBound Foundation, recently announced it was out of money.

Faced with greater demand as well as lower return on its endowment's investments because of dwindling interest rates, the foundation has told some students the help they expected won't materialize.

The tight money situation probably won't improve much any time soon.

LTC Congress recently voted to increase the maximum federal grant for lower-income students from $2,400 to $3,600 a year.

In reality, the amount that students can get next year will probably drop because Congress didn't set aside money for the higher grants.

The state, with an ongoing budget crisis, is unlikely to increase state scholarship funds dramatically, officials said.

"The state should do more if it had more to do it with," said State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, an education expert on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "Right now we just don't have any money."

Central Scholarship Bureau

In their hunt for financial aid, Baltimore-area students can still find money for college in at least one place.

The Central Scholarship Bureau, a low-profile agency with only four part-time employees in Northwest Baltimore, is still handing out no-interest loans of as much as $2,500 a year to eligible students from Baltimore or Baltimore County.

The 67-year-old non-profit agency has money to lend only because officials launched a major fund-raising campaign last year in anticipation of soaring demand, said Executive Director Helen London. Last year, the agency ran out of loan money in August and had to turn away some qualified applicants.

The agency, which boasts a 98 percent repayment rate from its recipients, went out and raised about $300,000 in the last year to meet the growing demand, Ms. London said. The agency will easily surpass its loan total of $211,495 from last year, she said.

The private agency has no endowment but counts on a loyal list of some 700 contributors.

A family of four can have an income of as much as $60,000 and qualify for a loan, a ceiling that takes in many college students from middle-class families.

"Students come in. We say we won't ask you for a fee," Ms. London said. "We just ask that you finish school and go out and get a job and pay us back."

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