Late last week, Marty Frame headed back to New Haven, Conn., for his sophomore year at Yale -- an educational experience that will cost slightly more than $15,000.
The same afternoon, his father was shopping around for a lower estimate on having the roof on his Towson, Md., home fixed.
Bruce Frame, 42, who also has two stepsons in college, said the cost of the three youths' educations -- about $37,000 this year -- is squeezing the family's finances, even after a patchwork of loans, scholarships and summer earnings was pulled together to help pay the bills.
"You defer things," said Bruce Frame, who works as press secretary to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.). "I'm trying to find a less expensive roofer right now. We went and visited relatives this year instead of the traditional go-up-to-the-lake vacation."
As the costs of higher education rocketed in recent years, federal financial aid budgets grew more slowly, if at all. And many families now find that college price increases far outpace their most careful planning.
Officials of local colleges, where yearly costs range from $500 for tuition at the University of the District of Columbia to $13,930 for tuition, room and board at Georgetown University, say they are worried about what that gap means. When the money carefully tucked away for 18 years barely makes a dent in college tuition bills for one semester, they say, many students are forced to work almost full time while attending classes, to take out hefty loans and, in some cases, to change their school or career plans with a pragmatic eye toward the price tag.
At the same time, parents with children in college find themselves taking out second and third mortgages on houses, bypassing vacations and even cutting back on daily necessities.
Some college officials have become so concerned about rising tuition costs and the inability of families to cope that they plan to send recruiters on the road to discuss costs with the families of eighth- and ninth-graders or to devise creative ways, such as monthly installment plans, to pay tuition bills.
"When Elizabeth and Laurie were born, we knew this was going to come up eventually," said Beverly Havlu of Fairfax, whose twin daughters are seniors at the University of Virginia, a state-supported school where yearly tuition, room and board costs $4,650.
Although the family had saved for college expenses, "It was much harder than we had anticipated," she said.
According to local college financial aid officers, the Havlus' complaint is a common one.
"I have encountered parents who may be very bitter because they did put money aside, but instead of paying for four years, it's paying for two," said Susan Broadbent, director of student financial services at Johns Hopkins University, where one year of undergraduate tuition, room and board costs $13,300.
Officials at Washington area universities say growing numbers of students depend on some kind of financial aid -- loans, grants or scholarships from federal, state and private sources -- to pay their bills.
Five years ago, 45 percent of Catholic University's freshmen received financial aid, according to Robert Talbot, director of admissions and financial aid. By last year, 68 percent of the freshmen were getting aid, he said.
While the number of local students seeking financial help has jumped, the amount of federal aid available has effectively shrunk as budgets for grant and loan programs have failed to keep pace with tuition of area colleges and universities, which has climbed as much as 10 percent a year.
Many college officials worry that today's costs will change the demographics of their student bodies; they fear losing low-income students who will balk at applying to expensive schools and losing middle-class students who may not meet stringent guidelines for federal financial aid.
Broadbent said her concern is "not for the very needy, because we will always be able to help them, and not for the very wealthy, because they can go to school anywhere they want, but the middle class. The middle class is going to be left out of the equation."
Faced with rising college costs, shrinking aid availability and family funds that stretch only so far, more students are seeking jobs and working longer hours -- during summer recesses and college semesters, according to school officials across the region.
"Students who don't work, I think, are the exception more than the rule," said Ruth Bodie, director of student aid at George Mason University in Fairfax.
Deairich Hunter, a junior who is paying his way through American University, worked in the financial aid office eight hours a day last year to help pay his yearly tuition and room and board expenses of a little more than $12,000. He took a full course load.
"It was incredible. It was really an experience. I was a full-time student, had a full-time job, and partied part-time," said Hunter. "You had to find time to squeeze in the studying and squeeze in the social life."
Students and college officials report fierce competition for jobs, particularly university-sponsored jobs that offer breaks on tuition or housing costs.
While few are willing to tackle a full-time job and a complete course schedule, college officials worry that even part-time work robs students of other opportunities, paring the richness of college life to a routine of employment and study.
Alice Mandanis, vice president for academic affairs at Arlington's Marymount College, said campus publications, intramural athletic teams and clubs have suffered because students barely have time for classes and jobs.
"There will be a celebrity speaker and no one will turn up," she said. "It's not because they're all in their rooms watching soap operas. It's because they're working."
Students who try to meet their expenses by packing 30 or more hours of work into a week inevitably shortchange their studies, she said. "We have found that in taking actions against students who are doing poorly, a large number are trying to meet college costs by holding a full-time job while taking a full course load."
Even when students put earnings toward college bills, they often need loans to make up the difference. Hunter, despite his 40-hour-a-week job last year and one for 25 hours a week this year, already has taken out $11,000 in loans.
Paying back that money "is a concern," he said. "I would like to become a civil rights lawyer, but I don't think I can make a lot of money doing that. Sometimes I think: Should I take this business law course and go into corporate law?"
The U.S. Department of Education, which announced last week that the default claims on government-backed student loans will top $1 billion for fiscal 1985 and may reach $1.8 billion by 1990, has made it a priority to crack down on defaulters.
While huge loans have long been commonplace for graduate and professional students, today's high costs are creating a generation of undergraduates who may be more than $10,000 in debt by the time they leave college.
"Where is it all going to end?" said Joan Powers, director of financial aid at American. "There is a clear ethical issue about having students of 22 walking around with $16,000 worth of debt. That isn't being solved, and it isn't even being addressed in depth."
Bruce Frame anticipates having $24,000 in loans to pay back when Marty graduates from Yale in 1988 -- and Marty will owe $10,000 in Guaranteed Student Loans.
"What does that do to somebody who wants to go into the public service, the Peace Corps, the military?" Frame said. "What are these kids going to do?"
College officials say they, too, are at a loss for answers.
In the meantime, they watch families struggling. "People are still continuing to invest in education," said Powers. "They aren't stunned by the costs -- or they were, and then they got over it. It sounds corny, but parents still want the best for their children."