Steamboat Springs Karina Deanda's breakdown of the expected costs of a college education in 2013 was greeted Tuesday night at Steamboat Springs High School by an abundance of urgent whispers.
“These numbers are scary at first,” Deanda, a representative for a website that helps students plan financially for college, told Steamboat parents and students as she walked them through the average costs of tuition, room and board and out-of-pocket expenses.
“They're scary all the time,” one of the parents replied.
The cost of college was on the minds of several parents and students who attended the high school's annual college fair.
Deanda's slides showed the average student debt is $25,000, and the average cost of a new college textbook is $250.
But parents also learned that scholarship opportunities are aplenty and that money for college is awarded not only to students who excel in sports or academics but also to those who are left-handed or good at designing a prom dress made from duct tape.
And parents didn't let the seemingly staggering cost of a college education overshadow their enthusiasm to see their students start an exciting collegiate career in the next year or two.
Standing among more than 100 other parents and students in the high school's atrium, parent Joe Huselton said the combination of the financial aid workshop and the availability of admissions representatives from 37 colleges at the fair Tuesday night was a perfect introduction to a stressful process.
“We didn't have anything like this when I was in school,” Huselton said, adding that the fair allowed his daughter Katie, a junior, to start exploring options for college early. “This is huge.”
Crowds of students and parents spent two hours walking through the many tables at the fair and meeting with college and military representatives from as far away as Maine and as close as Colorado Mountain College.
Business cards flew. Common applications were distributed. Excitement was fostered.
Junior Maggie Crouch said she knows college is expensive, but she was confident she could get a scholarship for academics or to play volleyball and basketball.
And junior Gretchen Burkholder already is touring campuses on the East Coast where she could continue her Nordic skiing career.
“We're early in this process, and we're just trying to figure out the pieces,” said Gretchen's mother, Amy. “Maybe this fair will open students' minds to an option they haven't seen before.”
At the high school, the road to college begins well before the college fair. It begins with a Post-It note from college and career counselor Danica Moss.
Moss said she meets with seniors and their parents early in the fall and asks what the student wants to do after high school. Then, she asks them how they plan to pay for it.
After the meeting, Moss gives the students a note with three to four tasks they can accomplish each week to get on the track to their postsecondary career.
As they explore their options, students can access four years' worth of data showing where their predecessors at the high school were accepted into college, their GPAs (anonymously) and what types of scholarships they received.
Moss said 87 percent of the high school's most recent graduates went on to attend college.
The remaining 13 percent joined the military, continued their skiing careers, entered into a “gap year” or immediately joined the workforce.
Moss added that the rising cost of admission is causing many students to look more closely at the finances behind their collegiate decisions.
“With the economy the way it is, more kids are looking for more affordable options,” Moss said.
She said the biggest benefit of the college fair is the exposure it gives students to their potential futures after high school.
“This is a huge investment,” Moss said. “Getting a college education or entering into a career determines what happens the rest of these students' lives.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com