Colorado low-income families take beating on paying for college

Low-income Colorado families are committing nearly half of their incomes to pay for their children’s college education, even with financial aid packages, according to a national higher-education report.

A biennial study, “Measuring Up 2008,” released Wednesday by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, gave Colorado a grade of F in college affordability.

Every state in the country received the failing grade with the exception of California, which received a C, because of the affordability of its community colleges.

“Nothing in that report is surprising to me,” said Curt Martin, director of financial aid at Mesa State College. “Nothing at all.”

Nationally, the lowest-income families commit 55 percent of their income to their children’s public, four-year institutions, which is an increase from 39 percent in 2000, the study said.

In 2000, Colorado “compared well” to other states in affordability, the report said, but cuts to higher-education budgets in the following years inflated the percentage of family income going to tuition and fees to

33 percent in 2006, which increased to 43 percent in 2008.

“Tuition is a big topic of discussion at our house,” said Trudi Hoffman who has a son attending college in Arizona and will send her daughter Megan Shahnooshi to the University of
Colorado in the fall.

Hoffman, a physical therapist, said she and her husband earn too much annually for her children to apply for need-based financial aid.

“We have two kids that are pretty close together, and we haven’t saved $200,000 for college,” Hoffman said. “We will help our children get their education, but we can’t go into debt.”

Hoffman said she and her husband will help pay tuition, but she expects her children to work to pay their own living expenses. She said she worries about how successful Shahnooshi will be in getting a job in a tough economy.

“Tuition is $18,000 at Boulder, and I’m at $4,000,” Shahnooshi said. “I’m applying for every scholarship I can.”

Shahnooshi will earn as many credits as she can at Mesa State College before transferring to Boulder because Mesa State is cheaper.

About 91 percent of Mesa State’s full-time students receive some financial aid, Martin said.

The average award package is about $8,800, while a year’s worth of tuition and fees is about $4,200, he said. The majority of the students use the additional funds for living expenses, Martin said.

“I think the next three to five years are going to be interesting in financial aid,” Martin said. “I think the focus will be more on administering aid to middle-income families, but that’s going be from the institutions themselves.”


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