Student Debt Climbing
by Julie Johnson

According to a report compiled by the Ohio state branch of the Public Interest Research Group’s (PIRG) 2002 Higher Education Project (HEP), today’s average student in higher educational institutions receives less aid and is required to work more hours than students in the past. Largely caused by redistributions of the financial aid burden from the federal level to the state and institutional level, the growing costs and resulting debt incurred while attending post-secondary educational institutions poses a threat to the academic achievements and experiences of students.
As the costs of education for students have risen, financial aid has not risen proportionally. As reported by the HEP, “the average grant award per student, as a percentage of average tuition and fees at a typical public four-year institution, has dropped by nearly one-third since 1982.”
Recent federal higher education policies have placed more of the burden of financial aid on individual institutions. Under Bush’s 2003 education budget, the Leveraging Educational Assets program, a need-based financial aid program, will be eliminated. This program is a partnership between state governments and the federal government. Every dollar put towards educational grants by the states is matched by the federal government. Eliminating this program shifts the burden to state level governments and individual institutions. In addition to affecting mainly lower income students, because 60 percent of the recipients of such grants come from households with incomes under $20,000, the elimination of the Leveraging and the decreasing funding for other aid programs such as the Pell Grant Program sends a message that need-based grant aid isn’t a priority to the federal government.
Ellynne Bannon, Ohio PIRG Higher Education Advocate and co-author of the 2002 Project, emphasizes the importance of re-evaluating the importance of making a higher education not only more accessible, but also higher priority in students’ lives.
“College is a time when students engage in a broad set of educational opportunities ranging from academics to civic engagement and community service. However, all too often the very education students are working to pay for is being compromised by the number of hours that they spend on the job,” Bannon said.
According to the report, students who work more than 25 hours a week are more than twice as likely to say that working negatively impacts their academic performance and overall academic experience; 46 percent reported that their grades suffered; 62 percent said that working limited their class schedules; and 45 percent said working limited their course choices.
Statistics compiled from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS), as reported in the State PIRG’s Higher Education Project, 2002.


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