NEW YORK — With tuition at private colleges, universities and universities of higher education rising faster than wages, students and parents say scholarships and grants are making college more affordable.
The push to bring higher education more in line with the cost of living has also brought more financial aid into the mix, and more money into student aid programs.
And it’s creating a new generation of people who have to decide if they want to stay in college for the long term, or move up and get a degree at the very least, said David Lebovich, president of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
For many people, there are two paths to graduation: Either they take out a full-time loan or go to a public school.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that for a typical college student, the median cost of a two-year associate degree was $25,000, while for a four-year degree the average cost was $44,000.
There are a few programs that offer scholarships that are tailored to students, like those for international students and students with disabilities, said Mark Schmid, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
But the ones that are truly focused on the needs of the student, such as financial aid, don’t really do the most good for students who are struggling financially, he said.
“The scholarships that really help the most students get out of poverty, that’s where the growth has been in the last couple of decades,” Schmid said.
“That’s where they’re really going to be most effective.
Many of these scholarships are not being focused on helping students who have money but who are already struggling.”
The trend toward a college degree, in particular, has helped drive the economy as well, said Jennifer Hilt, senior vice president of federal student aid at the College Board.
This year, the average tuition at public and private universities rose 7.2% to $5,400, according to the College Council.
That’s up from 6.5% in 2017, and the increase has come as the economy has been hurt by the Great Recession and the Great Brexit.
Still, many students say they can’t find the money to pay for tuition, even though their families are paying taxes.
They are worried about the impact on their jobs and their health, and they’re not sure if they’ll be able to find jobs or go back to school, said Marnie Mink, a 27-year-old student at Southern Connecticut State University.
If you can’t afford to pay, what’s your other option?
“We are not living paycheck to paycheck,” said Hilt.
Students at other public and nonprofit colleges said they don’t think they have a choice.
While tuition at some private institutions is free, students at some state universities are paying more than $2,500 for a two year degree, said Emily LeBlanc, president and CEO of the College of William and Mary.
That’s a lot more than private colleges charge.
“We’re paying more for a degree than we’re paying for our mortgages, for our student loans,” she said.
The push for more financial assistance to help students with college costs has also contributed to an increase in students getting aid, with the average amount being $7,800.
As the economy improves, students are hoping they will have enough to cover tuition and fees for a year or two.
At the University of Colorado Boulder, the Pell Grant program provides grants of up to $2.6 million per year to help low-income students pay for college.
The program is designed to help eligible students pay off loans or other student debt, while still attending school.
At the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the program, called the Accelerated College Admission Test, or ACCAT, has a $7 million grant to help the poorest students in the country.
For a second year, about 50,000 students will receive a $3,000 Pell Grant, according the organization.
On top of the Pell Grants, students who need financial aid for college may also receive some federal grants, such for Pell Grants for undergraduate students and grants for graduate students.
In some cases, those grants will be available to the students for free.
“The Pell Grant is a great way for students to have access to education for the first time,” said Beth Lott, executive director of The American Council on Education, which helps fund Pell Grant and other financial aid.
Even for students whose families cannot pay, some of the money they receive from the federal government will help pay for their college education, said Lott.
Some schools offer financial aid that may not be available for some students, but may be available if students need financial help.
In Colorado, the University at Boulder