Students should own education

“I’m broke.”

That’s a phrase college students everywhere have uttered in a whining or worried tone at least once since entering the luminous halls of the ivory tower.

This phrase, however, might hold a more dire meaning for students and parents during the coming years as tuition continues to rise.

Tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities increased an average of more than 14 percent nationally last year from the 2002-2003 school year, according to the College Board.

In Washington state in the past 10 years, according to the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board, tuition and fees at public research universities have shot up an astounding 89 percent. Ditto for community colleges.

These shocking numbers should cause students either to revolt with pickets in hand or to rush to apply for scholarships and grants to help cover rising costs.

Yet, hearing from several other students, they aren’t aggressively pursuing these options. Instead, many are taking out more loans, working part-time, or their parents are picking up the slack – all necessary options, yet better alternatives exist.

College students need to take more financial ownership of their education by taking advantage of the many scholarship opportunities out there. They should view applying for scholarships as their annual responsibility, which can relieve some of the burden from parents and their own future budgets.

Higher education is expensive. That’s common knowledge.

Indeed, students should expect to take out some loans and/or to work part-time to help pay for the rising costs. Yet only a few people I know actually apply for scholarships habitually. Students aren’t aggressively pursuing these opportunities as they should.

For example, the Washington Promise Scholarship – a merit- and need-based scholarship – alone will dispense more than $6 million to students in 2004 in Washington state.

But according to Kris Betker at the Higher Education Coordinating Board, out of 10,000 students identified and invited as eligible to apply, only 4,300 actually submitted applications.

Loans are a popular option since they are readily offered and easily accessible. Nationally, the average student loan debt has increased 66 percent since 1997, according to Nellie Mae’s 2002 National Student Loan Survey.

And, of course, these loans accumulate. The average student at a public college in the U.S. takes out $16,000 in federal loans by the time he or she graduates from college. Students who attend private colleges take out an average of $18,000 by graduation.

That’s a significant amount of money to repay and not exactly something to look forward to with the limited job opportunities new grads are facing in today’s economy.

So, why are students increasingly indebting themselves when other sources of funding are available? Are students just lazy?

Hearing from several college students-to-be, applying for scholarships is just too much work. They’re competitive and require essays and paperwork. How tragic.

Yet, especially for students who have their eye on post-undergraduate education, taking out more loans than are absolutely necessary isn’t a smart long-term plan.

Forty-two percent of borrowers who opted not to attend graduate school said their already existing debt had a significant influence on their decision, according to a Nellie Mae survey.

Loans are a necessary and beneficial way to pay for one’s education, but students shouldn’t depend on them. They need to push themselves to actively pursue grants and scholarships. In doing so, they truly will own their education.