School costs rise as assistance falls short

Kristine Gill

The gap between the cost of college and what financial aid can cover is growing into the thousands of dollars.

Mark Evans, director of student financial aid, said that tuition increases for public education have soared over the past five years and increased significantly in Ohio.

“This is a national problem, and we didn’t get here overnight,” Evans said.

David Creamer, senior vice president for administration, said that at one point, a student eligible for the maximum amount of federal and state grants could cover their tuition.

“Now there is no way without scholarships and loans that even the student with the greatest need could afford college,” said David Creamer, senior vice president for administration. “Federal grants remained fixed at a time when tuition spiraled to its highest.”

Tuition for an in-state undergraduate student at Kent State is $8,430 this year. When all costs including room and board are considered, the total cost is $16,630. The highest-need student can receive $13,506 in Perkins loans, Pell grants and various other federal and state loans, Evans said. That still leaves a $3,000 gap.

Evans said that while the gap does factor in books and room and board, it does not account for transportation costs and the occasional Friday night pizza commonly included in the discretionary spending of college students. Out-of-state students experience an even larger gap.

Fewer than 200 students at Kent State benefit from the highest need-based package and Evans said the rest typically encounter deficits starting at $5,000.

“The gap varies from student to student depending on their financial aid package,” Evans said. “There is over $1,000 more available at the federal level this year for incoming freshmen.”

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act is partly responsible for that money. President Bush signed the bill in September to increase the amount of money available for the national Pell Grant, and decrease interest rates on student loans.

An increase in Pell Grants coupled with this year’s tuition freeze at Kent State has helped lessen the gap for what Evans said is the first time in a long time.

“There is a $1,000 drop in the gap with the tuition freeze,” Evans said. “It doesn’t cover (the cost of college), but at least the gap is temporarily shrinking.”

Evans said that one way families make up the gap is through federal parent loans. He said the average parent borrows $11,150.

Evans said the university is working to raise the money available for a mix of need- and merit-based scholarships. Kent State’s partnership with enrollment management firm Noel-Levitz will assist in the revision of current scholarship programs as well.

“In the short term we hope (the gap) can close or shrink,” Evans said. “We can’t fix it overnight.”

Contact student affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].