Seattle University student Jordan Johnstone is part of a 10 percent. A 10 percent of college students having to consider their financial aid more seriously than ever before.
Johnstone, a sophomore and biology major, says her family is definitely feeling the strain of paying for college. During her freshman year at Seattle U, her parents relied on outside sources to finance her education, such as savings, stocks, and bonds. This year however, was different.
"I had to take out loans [from FAFSA] this year. Before, we could pay for [tuition] from money saved up—but that's going other places now," she said.
A new urgency for financial aid in 2009 has without a doubt swept across the majority of those dealing with paying for their education. Private loans are available to less people; a problematic situation when these loans are needed the most during this time of economic strain. According to the Board of Education, this anxiety has generated a climb of approximately 10 percent above last year's already record increase in the application for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA.
The pressing need for loans became clear when the U.S. housing market hit a wall. Johnstone's father does research for real estate in her hometown of Bozeman, MT, a struggling line of work when houses are near impossible to sell. Her mother also lost money—about 60 percent—in the stock market last September.
Johnstone, an only child, made a deal with her parents that her main "job" was being a student; and so they would be the ones to worry about paying for her education. With aspirations of becoming a doctor were potentially threatened by an economic crisis, this deal reached a need for some negotiation.
"The agreement was that we never talked about finances," Johnstone said assuredly. "But then this year, with this economy, and now pretty much no one is buying real estate, [my Dad's] business took a huge dive. So our deal was broken, and for the first time I had to actually take responsibility and fill out FAFSA in order to get [financial] aid."
Johnstone and her family are certainly not the only ones that have adopted finances as the main focus of concern when it comes to college. Unlike Johnstone, who is steadfast that she will continue at Seattle U no matter her economic situation, others are not as fortunate in their decision. A changing dynamic of financial aid has emerged from the rubble of this economic collapse.
Studies show that in general, people's attitudes are changing about the access to financial aid. In a 2008 study done by the Public Agenda and the National Center for Public and Higher Education shows that Americans believe college students have to borrow too much money to pay for tuition. The results revealed an 8 percent jump from 78 percent in 2007 to 86 percent in the 2008 survey. With unemployment on the rise, worries about financial difficulties continue to plague the nation.
Sophomore Kristine Culala places "money" as her greatest priority when making decisions to continue her nursing degree at Seattle University.
"Grants, loans, and scholarships are the only things that are keeping me here. Without them, I'd probably be at a community college or something," she says with somewhat of a sigh.
On the bright side, Seattle University's annual raise in tuition for the coming academic year has been lower than in recent years. However, the possibility of transferring to more affordable universities or community colleges has become an increasing worry for students across campus like Culala.
Taking each year one step at a time seems to be the best bet. While the immediate impacts are devastating enough, the long-term reverberations of the economy's tightening belt may prove even more significant. Administrators at colleges nationwide are predicting larger-scale consequences. Institutions nationwide, like Ohio State University, for example have already seen the school's endowment drop as much as 30 percent.
Seattle University is unquestionably an expensive school. For many, relying on financial aid is the only way to make their education affordable. For a freshman student Andrew, who wished to withhold his last name, the financial aid he receives from Seattle University has a large influence on his continuation as student. A recent lay off in his family that has created even more of a shift in need for financial aid.
"My education is swinging in the balance," he said.
Currently, economic uncertainty seems to hang like a cloud over many students' minds. It is definitely a difficult task to try and predict a students' ability to fund their college education the as soon as the next academic year. But optimism remains as well, as people learn to adjust to rougher financial times.
Johnstone, reflecting on her mother's experience in the economic recession of the 1970s, began to see how her current situation possessed many similarities.
"She taught me to start making little compromises and look at the bigger picture," Johnstone said. "My Mom lived in an attic, worked three jobs, and paid for school at the same time. Yeah, it sucked, but she got to go to school. I guess right now I am finding out the same kind of thing for myself."