Oct. 14, 2008 -- The economic crisis isn't just shrinking retirement funds. Many families are watching the money they put away for their children's college tuition dissipate.
But there are ways to get help. Lake Forest College financial aid director Jerry Cebrzynski offers tips on funding college during this economic downturn.
Tell Financial Aid Office if Your Economic Situation Changes
Let your financial aid officer know what your specific situation is. If it's changed significantly, you may be eligible for more aid than you were in the past. A drastic loss of income in the family can change your eligibility for financial aid.
As an example, Cebrzynski recently found an additional $5,000 for one family in which the father lost his job and the mother has cancer. With this student, he went back to look at his original aid application, plugged in the new info and found that the student was eligible for $1,500 more from the government and $3,500 more from the university.
Speak to Your School About a Different Payment Schedule
Families can meet with the college about payment scheduling. Instead of paying a lump sum for fall semester and again for spring, some colleges have a 10- or 12-month plan. That way parents or students pay a smaller amount each month, rather than two big checks per year.
And in cases of extreme emergency, your college or university may offer a short-term loan plan. They vary from place to place, and you may get a longer grace period for paying them back — like a 5- to 10-year period.
There is also a work study program. Colleges are trying to do as much as they can to earmark a little more money for these, but the amount they can give out is limited. Still, the students who get it make a couple of thousand bucks a year.
Think locally. People think about national scholarships first, but neighborhood programs such as Boys and Girls Clubs or Kiwanis can be very helpful.
There are a lot of scholarships offered now for engineering students, or those who have a lot of extracurricular leadership activities, and especially adult students going back to school.
And also, think about your ethnic background and ask your aid officer about scholarships based on your heritage. Make sure to mention that.
Additional Funding Options
Schools can refer you to private education loan programs. Sallie Mae is a big one. These are loans taken out under the student's name, with a co-signer. There are also federal plus loans — a loan for parents to borrow on behalf of the child with relatively low, 8.5 percent interest. These days, they are a little easier to get than private education loans.