5. Cutting other costs: Some colleges have noted that students are cutting back on all kinds of expenditures. A growing number of students at Goucher College near Baltimore have been switching from a 480-meal-per-year plan to a 380-meal plan, saving about $400. Students can also slash their housing costs. Co-ops, which require a few hours of chores a week, typically are $2,000 to $7,000 a year cheaper than regular dorms. Students who agree to share a room with two other students, instead of the standard one roommate, can usually save $1,000 to $2,000 a year. Buying and selling back used textbooks, instead of keeping new books, can save typical students more than $500 a year.
6. More student work: More students are taking part-time jobs. The federal government added funding for 200,000 extra work-study jobs in 2009. Since students who work more than 20 hours a week generally hurt their grades, schools typically cap campus jobs below that. Still, good work-study jobs allow students to earn at least $100 a week, or at least $2,500 for the academic year.
7. More, bigger, cheaper, and easier federal student loans: At least 6 million students are taking out federal Stafford student loans this year, up from about 4 million two years ago. Young freshmen can borrow up to $5,500. Upperclassmen 24 and older can borrow up to $12,500. The government has made it easier to repay those loans by allowing graduates to cap their monthly payments below 15 percent of their incomes.
8. More, bigger, and (temporarily) easier federal loans to parents: Although parents are having a much harder time getting home equity or private loans, the government has eased a little of the immediate pain of taking out federal PLUS loans, which can cover a student's cost of attendance (less any scholarships or other aid). Parents can now put off repaying their federal education loans until their student leaves school. That could come back to bite them in a few years, however, because the principal keeps building at about 8 percent a year. Parents who borrow the typical $8,800-a-year PLUS loan could easily owe more than $44,000 by the time their kid graduates. It would take payments of more than $500 a month to pay that off in 10 years. While some parents might get enough raises in that time to pay such big bills, Stuart Siegel, a private financial aid counselor in Erie, Pa., worries that lots won't. Many parents don't realize that even declaring bankruptcy doesn't wipe out education loans, so some parent borrowers may be setting themselves up for financial crises in a few years.
9. Family savings: Although the investment markets' meltdown eroded most families' savings, many parents find that they can free up hundreds of extra dollars once their student moves to campus. The federal government estimates teenagers cost parents more than $6,000 a year in food, clothing, transportation, and other extras. So parents who stop allowances and take away the keys to the family car (and suspend expensive teen car insurance) can reduce their costs by perhaps $4,000 during the nine months the student is at school.