In the scramble to pay fall tuition bills, many college students and their parents are making an unhappy discovery -- there isn't much money left to go around.
With the economic slump forcing record numbers of students to apply for aid, several state colleges report an unprecedented demand.
The University of Maryland at College Park scaled back the amount given to each needy student by hundreds of dollars. The rationing, intended to spread the money around to more people, means students will have to get by without frills such as new clothes or campus entertainment, said an official there.
"There's a lot more need out there, that's very clear," said Marilyn Leuthold, director of financial aid at Towson State
University, which ran out of its own scholarship money at the beginning of June, with a huge stack of applications still coming every day.
At Coppin State College, "more people than ever" won't get financial help from the college this year, predicted financial aid director Ronald Smith.
The State Scholarship Administration in Annapolis has been flooded with a 29 percent increase in the number of applicants this year. The General Assembly approved a 22 percent increase in state scholarship funds, which means a lot of students aren't getting as much as they would like.
Even students with serious financial difficulties are having a difficult time finding grants and scholarships.
Consider Thuan Truong, an 18-year-old graduate of Randallstown High School, who would seem to be the ideal candidate for financial aid. His father, a Vietnamese immigrant, has been out of work for nearly a year, and his mother draws a modest salary.
But there will be no grants for Mr. Truong to attend the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.
Even so, Mr. Truong will go to college.
He will live at home, take out roughly $16,000 in loans over four years and work as many as 20 hours a week in a video store.
"I was surprised that I didn't get some sort grant or something," Mr. Truong said. "I thought we would qualify."
Robert Jackson, 21, is still trying to figure out how he will pay his fall bills at Morgan State University.
"I'm still doing a little wheeling and dealing, lining up these scholarships I may be eligible for," Mr. Jackson said.
A 1989 graduate of Walbrook High School, Mr. Jackson lives with his sister and gets no financial help from his parents. He scoffs at the suggested parental contribution that appears on computer-generated financial aid forms.
"It's like, 'Jeez, where is that going to come from?' " he said. "There's no way I could have that."
Mr. Jackson decided to transfer to Morgan State from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1990 to cut his expenses.
He also dropped out of school for a semester to join the Naval Reserves, a strategy he thinks might help him pay for school.
Even though he can live at home while attending Morgan State, Mr. Jackson expects to finish school owing some $10,000.
For many students, loans are the only answer.
"The good news is, if there's a willingness to borrow, the money ought to be there," said Robert J. Massa, executive director of academic services at the Johns Hopkins University. "The bad news is that the grant programs . . . aren't keeping pace."
Many students are understandably reluctant to accumulate huge debts even before they venture forth into an uncertain economy.
Coppin State College officials actually discourage students from taking large loans, fearing that too many graduates will default and bring federal penalties on the school, according to Mr. Smith of Coppin's financial aid office.
Shannon Yunkun isn't complaining about her loans.
The daughter of two Laurel professionals, Ms. Yunkun last year had no trouble paying her freshman bills at Towson State University. That was before her father was laid off and her mother had health problems that kept her out of work for several months.
Now, Ms. Yunkun, 19, scoops frozen yogurt by day, works in a restaurant at night and is on a first-name basis with the people in the Towson State financial aid office.
After months of worrying, Ms. Yunkun has found the money to return to Towson next month for her sophomore year. She received a state scholarship, got a little money from the school and a small grant from the federal government.
She also expects to owe some $10,000 in loans when she graduates.
"We were just up the creek," Ms. Yunkun said. "But, I'm really happy. I'm really happy with the support I've received."
No one knows how many students for the first time find themselves scrambling for financial aid because of economic problems. But all Maryland campuses report seeing those students again and again.
One returning Towson State student has redone his application three times, once when his mother was laid off, once when his father was laid off, and a third time after his mother suffered serious medical problems with no health insurance, Ms. Leuthold said.