Dear Joyce: Paying for college has become vastly more difficult than getting into a good school, but I'm sure you know that. What would I have to do to become an independent student and thus qualify for more student aid? T.O.F.
Encouraging children to become, economically speaking, independent students is one of the new wisdoms being snapped up by growing numbers of parents who take one look at five-figure annual college bills and faint.
Students on their own who are at least 24 years old -- not supported by families -- have a smaller income, thus qualifying them for higher amounts of aid. There are a number of other fine-print ways to qualify as an independent student and these are cataloged in the new 1992-93 edition of my booklet, "The College Financial Aid Emergency Kit."
Passing up pricey second- and third-tier private colleges for less expensive public institutions, a high-wave wall of students is hitting popular state universities, causing them to become impacted. In some cases, it's taking students five and six years to push through the crowd and acquire the credits they need for graduation. In the tightest cases, college juniors and seniors are returning to community colleges to pick up credits for core classes they cannot schedule at the senior institutions.
The big worry of families and their children is that bargain tuitions may become remembrances as state governments shred subsidies to higher education.
The big action in higher education funding continues to be loans, loans and more loans. Families and students are borrowing everywhere: against their homes and life insurance, or from the government, employers, banks or college-financing firms offering alternative loans and payment plans. Many of the private loans have interest rates from 16 percent to 22 percent, about the same as credit cards. Repayment often can be spread out over 15 years or so.
Today free rides are so rare that when students like Marianne Ragins of Macon, Ga., get offers totaling $300,000 in scholarships from 20 colleges, businesses and foundations, they get written up in national news magazines.
Other trends: Most colleges several years ago would have turned up their academic noses at computerized data base programs listing privately sponsored scholarships. That's changing and it's to your advantage to ask at your school's financial aid office if a private aid data base is available to you.
Interest is picking up in cooperative education programs offered by about 1,000 colleges and universities nationwide in which students take short-term positions in their career field and receive salaries for their work.
The big hunt is on, too, for organizations, from hospitals to the military, that will pay tuition in exchange for after-graduation work.