College applications deadlines are approaching, and Ohio students are facing the daunting question of how to fund their education. Financial aid is down in the state, and student debt is up.
The total budget for need-based aid in the state of Ohio peaked in 2008 at $183 million, while the 2013 budget is just $86 million. Budget cuts in 2009 are responsible for a lot of that change, and while federal Pell Grant funding has increased dramatically, that growth has been outpaced by increases in tuition and living costs.
Dr. Karen Rafinski, interim president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, says low-income students have a much harder time finishing school than higher-income students, even in studies that control for talent and academic achievement. Community college tuitions have been specifically excluded from state need-based grants since 2009, and a 2013 study commissioned by the association finds community college students are increasingly turning to loans.
“Our students haven’t had to take out a large amount of loans prior to this time,” said Rafinski. “Often times they are still running full-time jobs and go to school at night.”
As in many states, total student debt is on the rise. About 68 percent of Ohio graduates leave college with debt averaging around $29,000 dollars, which makes Ohio one of the ten worst states for student debt, according to one recent study.
On the brighter side, tuition growth at public colleges and universities has slowed significantly this year, with some colleges keeping tuition flat.