U students explore ways to cope with higher tuition

University alumnus Matthew Schuelka knows how it feels to have college-created debt.

While attending the University, he began using his credit card to pay for food, clothes, textbooks, concert tickets and other living expenses, he said.

Despite working approximately 15 hours per week at University Village, he didn’t have enough money to pay his credit card balance, Schuelka said, so he accumulated thousands of dollars in debt.

“I swim in debt,” Schuelka said.

Now, he works 30 hours per week at Starbucks, substitute teaches periodically and plays piano at various lounges to help pay off his $14,000 loan within the allotted five years, he said.

Schuelka said not taking out student loans to pay for tuition hurt him in the long run.

“It’s in your best interest to get student loans,” he said.

Schuelka is not alone in his difficulties paying for school. Increased college costs have caused many students to take out more loans and work more.

Tuition blues

Since fall 2002, undergraduate tuition at the University has increased by more than 23 percent to more than $6,600 in fall 2004.

The increased tuition rates are tough on students, in general, but hit students from middle-income families the hardest, said Peter Zetterberg, Office of Institutional Research and Reporting director.

Rates have increased sharply in recent years “because of the loss of state funding,” he said.

Ryan Lynch, an economics and finance sophomore, attended the University for the 2003-04 school year but said the increasing costs caused him to transfer to a community college to save money.

By attending Minneapolis Community and Technical College instead of the University, Lynch said, he saves $4,863 in tuition per school year.

He said he plans to attend the University again next fall and worries about the increasing tuition rates and having to take out more loans.

“The University is a solid institution, and the education is worth it to me,” he said.

But Zetterberg said higher tuition rates didn’t seem to hurt student access. Students are finding ways to pay for school, he said.

Loans, loans, loans

Some of those ways, however, include working more hours or taking out more loans to pay for tuition and other expenses.

Amy Lund Swalley, Office of Student Finance associate director, said University students are taking out more private and federal loans.

Tricia Grimes, a policy and research analyst at the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, said that during the 2003-04 academic year, 49 percent of Minnesota undergraduates borrowed an average of $6,100.

She said higher tuition has probably contributed to the increased borrowing, but many students are borrowing more because interest rates are low. In 1999-2000, the interest rate was 7.7 percent, and in 2003-04, it was 2.8 percent, Grimes said.

Lund Swalley said, “These days, there are more kinds of loan programs and more lenders in the game.”

She said it takes students an average of 10 years to pay off their debt, but it can vary.

Lynch said that to pay for his tuition, he is dependent on the Stafford Loan, Ford Federal Direct Loan, Perkins Loan and various grants.

“Long term, I am concerned about taking out so many loans and leaving college with a cloud of debt hanging over my head,” Lynch said.

Taqee Khaled, a public health graduate student who completed his undergraduate degree in 2003 at the University, said that he took out extra student loans during the latter half of his undergraduate career to deal with higher tuition costs.

He said he anticipates it will take him six to eight years to pay off the approximately $18,000 in undergraduate student loans he owes.

Khaled said he wants to go to medical school but might opt to work for a few years beforehand to “break even” on his debts.

He also had to increase his work hours during his last two years of undergraduate work. Khaled said he worked two or three jobs at a time during those years to cover increasing tuition costs.

Although Lynch relies heavily on loans, he said, he also works 25 to 30 hours a week at a law firm.

“It’s difficult; sometimes, I need to choose between buying groceries or gas,” he said.

Lynch said that while he attended the University, he mentored students through the YMCA tutor program and did work-study washing dishes for University Dining Services.

Housing costs

University students contend with more than just the increasing cost of tuition and ever-increasing loans.

The price of housing is a significant debt contributor for some.

Unlike many of her friends, Lauren Mulvey, a first-year psychology student, doesn’t get financial support from her parents, she said.

Mulvey lives in Frontier Hall with the help of loans, financial aid and working at least 12 hours per week, she said.

Next year, she said, she hopes to live in an apartment with her friends to save money, but her friends want to live downtown, where it’s more expensive.

This year, the University calculated the average cost of rent in the campus area at $549 per month for undergraduate housing and $748 per month for graduate housing.

If the price only went up as much as inflation, the current price for undergraduates would be $520.

The undergraduate housing cost reflects the average price of similar one- or two-bedroom apartments in 16 complexes around campus, said Mannix Clark, Housing and Residential Life associate director.

The Melrose, Dinnaken House, Chateau and Roy Wilkins Hall are some of the apartments the University looks at to calculate the average.

Three years ago, the University calculated the average monthly cost of undergraduate housing at $500, which is approximately 10 percent less than it is now.

Next year, the average cost of undergraduate housing will be down to $543, said Dianne Danov, Office of Student Finance associate director.

A higher vacancy rate is a possible explanation for the decrease in average housing cost, Clark said.

“The vacancy rate over the last four or five years has gone up,” he said.

When not as many beds are full, Clark said, apartments often lower the price of rent to fill them.

But decreasing rent did not affect Lynch. Next year, his rent will go up $100, he said. That, coupled with tuition increases, could prove to be a headache for him, he said.

“Next year, if the tuition rates at the University continue to increase Ö I am going to have to tutor a lot more kids and wash a lot more dishes,” Lynch said.