How families keep college costs down

August 26, 2013

From Fox11online.com: “Back to School 2013: Local families try to keep college costs down” — Some families in our area say how they’ll be able to pay for college is a major factor in where their children attend school. But are some people being priced out of a higher education?

President Obama announced major college financial aid changes last week.

He says it’s to stop middle class families from being “priced out” of an education.

Some families in our area say how they’ll be able to pay for college is a major factor in where they attend school.

Like many, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College student Anna Sieving says she’s struggled paying for college.

“I started at UW-Milwaukee originally, and when finances got tight back in 2008, I ended up stopping my attendance there,” she said.

And cost was a major factor for Sieving to go back to school.

“I was looking at UWGB versus NWTC. It was half the price basically,” said Sieving.

“We’re a little more affordable than some other college options. We’re about $130 a credit,” said Mark Franks, director of financial aid for NWTC.

NWTC says many students eventually transfer to four-year UW schools after two years.

On UW-Green Bay’s campus, prospective student Kelly Vanderloop says living at home in Kaukauna might be an option to keep costs down.

“I do have a job, and I have been saving as much as I can. And I will have to get financial aid because there’s no way my parents can pay for it, and I don’t want to be really, really badly in debt,” said Vanderloop.

Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Education says 57 percent of students receive financial aid.

Here in Northeast Wisconsin, that number is much higher.

At UW-Green Bay, 70 percent of students receive some kind of financial aid.

At NWTC, it’s 80 percent.

At St. Norbert, 98 percent of students receive financial aid.

There, the average student pays $40 thousand a year for tuition, room and board and fees.

The average financial aid award at St. Norbert is $26 thousand a year.

But the remaining $14 thousand that a student would be left to cover nearly equals the cost of attending a UW school and staying on campus.

St. Norbert College has one of the highest tuition costs for higher education in our area. So we asked families touring campus whether they feel they’re being priced out of an education.

“I don’t know if being priced out is a big issue, but going to a good school is always a big factor,” said Nate Stolte, a prospective student from New Berlin.

“I think that is the case for some students if they don’t have the support systems whether they be family or school or guidance, letting them know the resources available,” said his mom, Tracey.

Across town at NWTC, some students have a different view.

“Most definitely. I think a lot of students won’t be able to attend college because the college costs are going up, and it’s not like the wages are going up,” said Sieving.

We spoke to the experts, to find out what kind of help is available.

“I think if families prepare for it, they can certainly keep that cost down and keep that loan cost down,” said Sue Steeno, a financial aid counselor at UWGB.

Steeno says all students should fill out a FAFSA form, or a free application for student aid.

That will determine the eligibility for Pell Grants, scholarships and student loans.

“Pell Grants are the biggest federal grants. It goes to the neediest of the neediest students,” said Jeff Zahn, St. Norbert College financial aid counselor.

Zahn says 23 percent of students there receive Pell Grants.

But more higher-income families have been applying for scholarships.

“Even someone who earns 100 thousand dollars a year, if you’re looking at a cost of something of 40 thousand dollars a year, that’s a big commitment from them, right?” said Zahn.

And before they commit to a college, parents and students say they must calculate those costs, versus the eventual rewards of a higher education.

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