Colleges strapped for cash

Sinking economy depleting scholarship funds, boosting tuition for students

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On the 'Net

- www.collegeinvest... - Run by the Colorado Department of Higher Education to help Colorado students with "both the affordability and access to higher education."

- www.fafsa.ed.gov - A national, government-run website to determine parents' expected contributions.

- www.fastweb.com - A clearinghouse of scholarships available to college-bound students.

If you go

What: College financial aid seminar and panel led by Gayle Dudley

Where: Steamboat Springs High School

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Who: All interested parents and students

Panel members include: Megan Cave, from CollegeInvest; Brooke Koenig, a financial aid officer for University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; and Mary Edwards, from the office of financial aid at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus.

— Gayle Dudley says there is always a way to pay for your education.

As Steamboat Springs High School's college and career counselor, Dudley wants to make it clear that despite a sinking economy and rising tuition costs, students can find a way to pay for a college education if they start looking now.

To assist parents and students beginning the search, Dudley is hosting a college finance seminar at the high school at 7 p.m. Monday.

The event comes at a grim time for many students and their families.

This year, the average annual in-state tuition for four-year colleges in Colorado increased 8.9 percent, from $5,435 in 2007-08 to $5,916 in 2008-09.

Colleges also have been hard-hit by the economic collapse. Colorado State University lost $18 million from July to November, according to The Fort Collins Coloradoan. The Associated Press reports Harvard University lost $8 billion during the same period.

Increasing tuition at private and four-year public universities also is leading some students to press colleges for more aid, Dudley said.

"I think what's going to be the watchword for colleges is what kind of financial aid they can provide," she said. "A lot of schools do try to make the difference between what the parents are expected to pay and the cost."

Monday's seminar will include Megan Cave, from CollegeInvest; Brooke Koenig, a financial aid officer for University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; and Mary Edwards, from the office of financial aid at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus.

Luke Carleo is a marketing associate with CollegeInvest, a state-run Web site aimed at Colorado students. He said the outlook is dim but not dark.

"The message we're putting out to students is there are still dollars available," he said.

Dudley agreed money was available, but often in different forms.

"The reality with the financial situation is that it's getting harder and harder to get aid," she said. "There are more loans and fewer scholarships, especially locally."

Dudley said students at the high school received $134,000 in scholarships last year, but she has no confidence that this year will bring in the same amount.

Monday's event is open to all parents and students, and Carleo said it's not just juniors and seniors who should consider financial options.

"It's really never too early for families to prepare for college, both on the academic front and the financial front," he said.

Dudley agreed, saying many families have not fully examined the potential costs of colleges.

"It's an eye-opener. I think that's what this is for a lot of parents and kids," she said.

By looking at finances early and understanding how much money is involved, Dudley said, families better understand what kind of education is appropriate for each student. Whether a family is willing to incur debt can also be a guiding factor in college choices.

"One of the things I really want parents and kids to do is start the conversation about who is going to pay for what," she said.

Tight finances also are leading more students to consider community college options for their first two years, Carleo said. The average tuition for two-year colleges in Colorado increased 4.3 percent in the past year, from $2,459 in 2007-08 to $2,565 in 2008-09.

"I think (community colleges are) becoming maybe a little more top-of-mind because of the economy and increasing tuition and so on," Carleo said. "But it really hasn't been a sense of panic that we've come across."

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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