About a dozen students are in line at Sacramento State’s Financial Aid Office. Gary Ford is one of them. Ford says he’s struggling to stay in school. He’s even had to reduce his course load.
"With the economy I just can’t afford it. I have to take a few less loads, still get financial aid and work full time."
The Liberal Studies student says between his job at a restaurant and his classes at Sac State, it’s going to take him a lot longer to graduate.
"I’m 24. I thought I’d be done by at least 22. So the fact that I’m actually slowing down as I’m getting older now, not a good thing."
But he’s not alone. Record numbers of college students in California and across the country are lining up for help, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The number of students nationally filing federal student aid forms during the first half of 2008 was up 16% from the same time last year. In California, it was up nearly 20%.
Alexander Gonzalez is Sac State’s President. He says for this coming fall semester alone, they’re disbursing $35.5 million…$7 million more that last fall.
"That’s the largest amount in Sac State’s history. So clearly when there’s bad economic times the demand for financial aid goes up."
Sacramento State’s Financial Aid Director Craig Yamamoto has a more positive spin on the increase. He says more students have figured out how to apply for the aid.
"We did a lot of financial aid awareness activities in February and we also followed that up in April with another campaign to make sure that students turned in their documents."
University of California campuses throughout the state are also seeing big increases. Nancy Coolidge is UC’s financial aid coordinator. She says there’s something else that’s on the rise – more students who’ve already filed for financial aid…are asking for more.
"They come in and say ‘since I filed, a parent has lost a job’ or ‘since I filed we’ve had a setback financially’ for example a foreclosure, that type of thing."
Coolidge says they’ve seen this before…whenever the economy falters. But for students seeking financial aid…like Gary Ford at Sacramento State…coping with the cost of college will be a challenge that won’t go away any time soon.
"Definitely, incurring more and more debt. Like, I’m never going to make enough money to pay back the loans that I’m taking out right now."