April may be good for the soul, with the blooming of cherry blossoms and daffodils, but for many of us it's not so good for our checkbook. Uncle Sam takes his annual bite, and we also get the news that our college-bound child has been accepted at Ivy League University, with its total yearly cost of something like $15,000.
Proud as we may be to receive such tidings, they come this year right after word of the administration's desire to limit eligibility for guaranteed student loans to families. Included in the budget package to be considered by the Senate after the spring break is a cap that would deny guaranteed student loans to families with incomes of more than $60,000. In the meantime, where can the middle-income families who have depended on such loans look for help in meeting college costs? Here are 10 suggestions.
1. Federal and state-supported loan programs. "There is no need for immediate panic," says Patricia A. Smith, director of legislative analysis for the American Council on Education. Any changes will be unlikely to affect your current ability to borrow for the 1985-86 school year.
And many state and local governments are actually increasing the amount of loan money available. A consortium of universities in the D.C. area, for example, is currently working on a student-loan program that would be financed through tax-exempt bonds issued by the District government. Through it, says consortium assistant director Wilton Corkern, loans "based on an individual's ability to repay them" would be available to any person accepted at one of 10 local participating colleges, including American, Georgetown and George Washington universities.
2. Private lenders. If you have substantial equity in your home, as well as a good income and credit history, many local banks will extend a line of credit, which will enable you to borrow money as needed to pay those college bills. The advantage of this type of loan is that you pay interest as you borrow rather than on the total amount available to you. It can also be set up on short notice -- as little as three weeks at Suburban Bank, for example, according to consumer-loan specialist Rebecca Best.
3. Specialized organizations. If you can afford the total college bill but not in the lump-sum payments usually required, you can enroll in a plan, such as that offered by Academic Management Services of Pawtucket, R.I., which enables you to spread those payments over 10-12 months. More than 500 colleges participate in the AMS plan; the service carries an annual charge of $40.
4. College financial-aid officers. Dr. Ulysses S. Glee Jr., director of financial aid at the University of Maryland, regards it as "part of the responsibility of a university to prospective and current students to help families identify all available sources of funds not just at that institution but at others as well." Another point to keep in mind, says Joan Powers, American University's financial-aid director: "By accepting a student, a university indicates that it intends to do all it can to enable that student to attend."
Ideally, you should contact the aid office at all colleges you are considering before you even apply, to get an idea of the amount they can provide. But it is still possible to negotiate with a school which has admitted you, particularly if another institution is "bidding" for your attendance.
Many colleges also offer "creative payment options" to those already attending, along with those considering the school. Examples include lower rates for the second family member enrolled and tuition credit for campus leaders. One cautionary note: Be sure to check out such "deals" thoroughly to be sure they aren't last-ditch efforts of a school about to go bankrupt.
5. The Armed Forces. The various ROTC programs sponsored by almost all branches of the military are among the best cost-meeting opportunities around, particularly if you're interested in pursuing a science or engineering career. The Army, for instance, offers two- to four-year scholarships, which pay for tuition, books and fees, plus a $100 monthly allowance at one of scores of schools nationwide in exchange for a post-graduation service commitment.
6. Scholarship search services. Beginning in their junior year, most college-bound high schoolers are bombarded with ads from firms that "guarantee to find from five to 25 sources of scholarship aid for which you are eligible or your money will be refunded." Too few people, however, realize that they can find at least as many sources with probably less than an hour's research in their local high school resource center or neighborhood public library -- and save the $50-$150 these firms typically charge.
Ken Hirsch, for example, a senior at Bethesda's Walt Whitman High School, found several non-need based awards on his own and won $1,500 from Shell Oil. "Finding it wasn't hard," he says. "Winning it was."
If you want to be sure no opportunity escapes your attention, however, many area colleges and school systems, including the University of Maryland and American University and Prince George's and Fairfax counties, provide computerized scholarship-search services at little or no cost.
7. Financial planners. Here, too, you can pay virtually nothing, or a lot, for help in planning ahead on how to meet college costs. Highly recommended by American University's Joan Powers is the Early Financial Aid Planning Service of the College Board. The EFAPS, for $9.50, will send you a computerized analysis of your resources to help you determine how much you will be expected to pay toward that B.A., what kind of aid you might be eligible for from up to four colleges and suggestions for meeting any remaining needs.
8. Savings plans. Families with several college-bound youngsters should consider looking into savings plans, which will insure that a substantial portion of the amount needed will be available when the bills start arriving. Among the most popular are Clifford Trusts, which must be held in your child's name for at least 10 years before the capital is returned to you, and Charitable Remainder Unitrusts, through which you donate a set amount of money to a college, but stipulate that a certain percentage of the gift be paid annually into a custodial account for your child.
Such plans have some risks attached, among them, their regulatory laws are always subject to change. Consult your banker or accountant for specifics.
9. Financial-aid guides. There are several excellent no- and low-cost brochures and pamphlets on the market that provide advice on how to obtain college money. Two of the best are Don't Miss Out by Robert Leider, and The College Financial Aid Emergency Kit by Joyce Lain Kennedy and Herm Davis. Both are updated annually and also list other useful publications. Don't buy anything more than a year old; such information is constantly changing.
10. Finally, reconsider your choices. If, after tapping all your resources, you still cannot come up with sufficient funds for Ivy League, don't forget the excellent educations available at state colleges and universities. While there is no question that both parents and students will have to work harder to afford college, given the expected rising costs and shrinking amount of available aid, perhaps the hardest "work" will be to change our attitudes about where high quality education can be obtained.