On The Money Trail
Choices abound on how best to pay for college
For parents who struggle like Sisyphus to overcome mountainous college expenses, only to be frustrated by the system, a bit of relief may be in sight.
No, college costs aren't coming down. Not even close-private schools are projected to raise tuition and fees about 5
But while the cost of an education keeps growing at a significantly faster clip than inflation, the tools parents can use to cover these expenses are also starting to improve.
Politicians of all stripes are wooing voters by helping them to pay down tuition with free money. Many of the new scholarships are small and require serious hoop-jumping. But they may represent a reversal of the long erosion of the best financial aid-grants or scholarships that don't have to be repaid.
The single biggest pot of free money, the federal government's Pell grant program, just got a little bigger and may soon become even more generous. Congressional Democrats and Republicans joined together earlier this year to raise the Pell grant, which goes to students from low-income families, by $260 to a maximum of $4,310. That's the first increase in four years.
One controversial program is also one of the newest. Starting last fall, low-income high school students who get good grades and take tough courses have been eligible for $750 freshman-year Academic Competitiveness Grants. Low-income upperclassmen who get good grades and major in certain sciences or languages can also now qualify for up to $4,000 in Smart Grants (http://www.studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/NewPrograms.jsp).
President Bush has proposed increasing the size of these grants. But Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently noted that while 40 percent of high school seniors were eligible for Pell grants, only 4 percent had the grades and courses needed to qualify for ACGs and that only half of the appropriated ACG money had been distributed.
Meanwhile, others are sending students even more money. Wyoming, for instance, is in its first year of giving grants of up to $3,200 to any student with good grades, and even more to needy students with good grades (http://www.hathawayscholarships.com/).And Delaware is in its first year of offering two years' worth of in-state tuition to high schoolers with at least a C-plus grade-point average (http://seedscholarship.delaware.gov/index.html).
High school seniors still have a few chances to raise cash, if they act quickly. Those who haven't filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/), should do so as soon as possible, since many colleges hand out aid on a first-come, first-served basis. At this late date, one of the best hopes for students feeling priced out of their favorite college is to file an appeal with a college's aid office before sending in a deposit.