Updated: 11/17/2010 9:00 AM ET|
10 ways to raise money for college
The recession and rising tuition are crimping family finances, but new tax breaks, jobs, bigger loans and federal grants can help defray or delay higher-education costs.
Grandparents are pitching in. Students are working more and eating less. Parents are taking out more and bigger federal loans. As the economy has declined and college costs have risen, families are buckling down and becoming more resourceful in paying for college.
They have been so successful at funding tuition that college enrollment is up dramatically. A record 40% of 18- to 24-year-old Americans took at least one college course in 2010. That's 11.5 million young adults. Add in their older classmates returning to school because of the lousy job market, and the total number of college students likely exceeds 19 million.
How are more students finding money for tuition when many colleges' prices are at record highs and many scholarship programs, private lenders and family savings accounts have been wiped out? Here are 10 places they're finding the funding:
1. Relatives. College officials around the country say they are noticing more checks coming in from grandparents, uncles and other relatives to cover student bills. A recent survey (.pdf file) by the MetLife Mature Market Institute indicated that nearly two-thirds of grandparents had provided financial help to their descendants in the past five years. The median contribution: $3,000. A quarter of the generous grandparents said they had increased their gifts because of recent economic troubles.
Other relatives are pitching in more, too. Maribeth Ford, a single mom, says she was surprised and thrilled when her brother hinted he would be willing to lend her son enough to cover the $10,000 gap between his scholarships, her loans and Iona College's $41,000 price tag.
"I wasn't expecting the level of help that he is offering. My son and I are very fortunate," Ford says. "My attitude was: Apply for everything possible, ask for help where reasonable -- the worst people can say is 'no' -- and my son had to contribute. Not a glamorous story, but one that's working for us right now."
2. Bigger and better tax breaks. The federal government estimates that perhaps 2 million tuition-paying Americans will be able to get as much as $2,500 back on their taxes when they file in 2010 and 2011 by taking advantage of the new American Opportunity higher education tax credit. The new credit is targeted to low- and middle-income families. Even those who earn so little that they owe no taxes can receive refund checks of up to $1,000.
The credit begins phasing out for singles who earn at least $80,000 a year and for couples who earn at least $160,000 and is unavailable for singles who make more than $90,000 and couples who make more than $180,000.
3. Scholarships. It's getting easier to apply for financial aid, thanks to a streamlined electronic version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. And although many state and private scholarship programs have been cut, the federal government and colleges have been easing the rules to enable more students affected by the economic downturn to get grants. A student affected by a layoff, for example, can write a letter to his or her college's financial-aid office documenting the decline in income and appealing for more aid.
In addition, a slight decline in the number of 18-year-olds has made certain kinds of colleges -- such as those in rural areas and lower-ranked private colleges -- anxious about filling their seats and eager to offer aid to lure applicants who are willing to pay at least partial tuition.
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