Economic Downturn Affecting College Choices For Students

By Staff

March 31, 2009

The economic climate is forcing many families and students to reevaluate college plans and opt for less expensive options in higher education.

New York Newsday reports that applications to more affordable state schools and community colleges are surging as students realize that dream schools are now out of reach. Stony Brook University, for example, has a waiting list that is expected to grow by 20 percent this year.

"What's remarkable this year is that it's so pervasive-it touches every single family," said Jacquelyn Nealon, vice president of enrollment services at New York Institute of Technology. "I think the biggest shock to many families is that they might have to make that tough decision and say, 'I can't afford to send you where you want to go.' For many of them, it might be the first time they've ever had to say 'no' to their child for a financial reason."

According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, which provides information about college financial aid, more students are cautious about taking on debt during a time when job prospects are uncertain.

"Students are looking at low-cost institutions where they can be less reliant on private student loans," Kantrowitz told Newsday. "There's an increasing emphasis on picking schools that they can afford even if they don't get any financial aid."

A Princeton Review survey of prospective college freshman and parents that was released last week indicated that more than a third were applying to more "financial aid safety" schools than they originally expected. But the survey also revealed that the biggest worry for this year's high school seniors is that they will get into their first-choice college but won't be able to afford it.

Record applications to some of the country's top private institutions indicate that plenty of students are trying hard to be admitted to those first-choice colleges. The New York Times reports that Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Yale and Brown all noted a significant jump in applications this year.

But The Times also found that public universities such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville reported record gains in application numbers-a probable indication of some students' desire to stay closer to home and pay less. Newsday reports that Adelphi University and C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University have noticed the same trend.

"We have many more inquiries than we've ever had from families locally asking, 'What are your costs, what are the differences between commuting and being a resident?'" said Gary Bergman, director of admissions at C.W. Post.

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