At Md. colleges, pleas to increase aid are up

As hard-hit families are unable to keep up with costs, institutions' resources are stretched to meet students' needs

March 18, 2009|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,

The pleas for more financial aid have come pouring in to College Park and to other campuses, public and private.

There's the family whose college savings have been "depleted because we used them to pay bills during unemployment" and another whose income dropped by $50,000 in December. Suddenly, they can't live up to their obligations to pay the college tuition.

Even as the need for aid has grown, the University of Maryland, College Park has less money to give because of a $1 million drop in the amount of income generated from one of its endowments.

And so the university launched Keep Me Maryland, a fundraising campaign to ensure that current students as well as those just admitted will be able to attend next fall. It aims to raise at least $1 million to offset the endowment drop. But two or three times that might be needed to keep up with the need, according to Sarah Bauder, director of financial aid.

The number of families asking for more financial aid has gone up by about 30 percent compared with the same time last year, she said.

The university is asking alumnae to donate small or large gifts, said Brodie Remington, vice president for university relations. "We don't anticipate that we will be able to meet the entire need, but we are absolutely committed to keep the university as accessible and affordable as possible," Remington said.

Other colleges are experiencing the same problem: an increase in need and a decline in financial aid dollars.

Salisbury University's director of financial aid said her institution, which provides $3 million a year to students, will increase that amount by 5 percent to handle the demand.

"We are seeing a flurry of activity by parents," said Barri Zimmerman, adding that parents of entering freshman are particularly anxious.

For all levels, the number of requests for additional aid amounted to 40 for the entire 2008-2009 academic year, she said. Already, for the 2009-2010 year, 20 parents have requested more aid even though Salisbury hasn't yet mailed out awards for next fall.

The Johns Hopkins University has taken an unusual path to raise money. The top 20 administrators took a voluntary 5 percent salary reduction, beginning in July, much of which will go to increasing the financial aid budget for undergraduates at the Homewood campus.

That pay cut, along with some other measures, will increase the amount of money the college can give out by nearly 8 percent. For instance, Hopkins has set aside $1 million for students whose families are struggling because of the recession, according to Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for the university.

The university has reason to believe it will need it.

O'Shea said at least two dozen current students asked for more help so they could stay in school this year. Officials believe that number will increase as families plan for next fall. Ten more students who have applied to the school have already adjusted their financial aid applications.

In other states, universities have also had to act to keep students in school. In New York, Syracuse University conducted a 45-day fundraising campaign starting in December to help hundreds of students pay for the spring term. The average need for those students was $5,000.

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