With just weeks before her daughter is due back at Goucher College, Alice Loving is wondering how to pay her share of the $20,000 cost.
"They are asking for 50 percent of the tuition as the family contribution, and I don't have it," said Mrs. Loving, an educational and volunteer service coordinator at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
"I am in a panic."
Mrs. Loving, a single parent, faces a dilemma that could strike any middle-income family. Her limited financial reserves, already stretched by paying two years of private college tuition, were depleted when she was hit by bills for emergency home repairs.
But the Financial Aid Form, the College Board form which assesses need, focuses on income and assets. Special cases like Mrs. Loving's must be decided by the college on an individual basis.
"There are a few cases each year when we make adjustments based on extenuating circumstances," said Faye Perry, director of financial aid at Goucher, a 985-student liberal arts school in Towson.
"We look at each case and decide whether or not we could reduce the parental contribution."
Mrs. Loving's daughter, Hope Griffin, enters her junior year at Goucher this fall.
Ms. Griffin, a graduate of Baltimore City College, chose Goucher because she felt it offered her the best academic program. Her mother, who supported the choice, thought that her income of $40,000 was low enough to qualify for significant financial aid.
She was wrong.
"I had the illusion they would look at me and say, 'Here's a single parent struggling and they wouldn't ask me for a lot of money,' " Mrs. Loving said.
"But they don't consider your mortgage or work on your home or emergency repairs."
Mrs. Loving said that she had already spent $10,000, most of her savings, on Ms. Griffin's first two years of college.
She has applied to several banks for a loan.
She also asked the Goucher financial aid office to lower her contribution to Ms. Griffin's college costs. In early August, Mrs. Loving learned the school had awarded Ms. Griffin an additional $1,000 in scholarship aid.
Even before she started college, Ms. Griffin and her mother had sought out financial aid. Ms. Griffin has received scholarships from a church group, a women's organization and the college itself.
She, too, has taken out loans -- she expects her indebtedness to be close to $5,000 by the time she graduates -- and she participates in a work-study program.
"I am investing in a good cause," said Ms. Griffin, a political science and communications major who is active in the a cappella choir, the Black Student Association and student government.
"This is something that will pay off."
Her mother agrees.
That's why Mrs. Loving has dramatically altered her life to help pay for her daughter's education.
"I don't do anything anymore but pay tuition, mortgage, gas and electric and enough to keep my car running," said Mrs. Loving, who put herself through night school at the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore. "I gave up cable. I don't buy personal items. And anything I do get is on sale."
Mrs. Loving believes her sacrifices will pay off when Ms. Griffin looks for a job. "Hope is a minority and a female -- she needs an extra edge," Mrs. Loving said. "When she graduates from school, Hope can write her own ticket. She can get a good job at a good company. She will do OK."