Priced out of college?

editorials

Our view: Hard times for Maryland families mean financial hurdles for the college-bound and a good reason to call for an increase in federal student aid

August 25, 2008

Rising prices and an uncertain job market are taking a toll on families struggling to pay for higher education. The tough economic times are reflected in the number of Maryland students applying for financial aid, which jumped 19 percent overall during the first six months of this year.

Affordability is a big issue in the choice of which school to attend, and many students are settling on nearby state colleges and universities where tuition and living costs are lower. At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for example, the freshman class is about 100 students larger this year than last; tuition there is less than half that of a comparable private university.

Maryland has kept tuitions at state schools stable in recent years, but it's clear more families are having trouble paying for college. Moreover, since last year, more than two dozen private lenders have stopped making student loans. Maryland lawmakers and educators should be in the lead calling for more federal funding for student loans, especially in light of the devastated housing market. Many families used to depend on the equity in their homes to help finance their kids' education. But with home values in the tank, that's no longer an option.

So far, Congress has responded by increasing the amount students can borrow under the federal Stafford loan program and by loosening requirements for federal PLUS loans that allow parents to borrow on behalf of their children. That's a start, but more needs to be done.

Meanwhile, it's still too early to know what impact the current downturn will have on enrollments; most schools don't report that data until after classes begin. But if college grows increasingly out of reach for large numbers of students, that spells trouble for Maryland, whose future depends on a highly educated work force capable of competing successfully in the global marketplace.

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