Economic Crisis Takes Toll On Students' Time, Finances

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Roky Truong doesn't sleep much. Working 50 hours a week on top of a 17-unit course load doesn't leave a lot of time for shuteye. But Truong, a sophomore at UC Berkeley, needs to cash in on all the waking hours he can, since the recent financial crisis has crippled his family's business and left them struggling to make ends meet.

After selling their cafe due to bad business this year, Truong's parents and his seven younger siblings had to move to a smaller house in San Diego, leaving little to spare for Truong's college tuition and expenses.

"Sometimes I get off work at 3 a.m. and I have to go home and finish homework for my 8 a.m. class," said Truong, who works three jobs, two of which he obtained through the work-study program. "With papers and finals coming up, I'm kind of hurting, but this semester went by relatively easily. I'm just scared for next semester."

Edie Irons, communications director for the Institute of College Access and Success, said many students are facing financial challenges, as family budgets are shrinking and students are reassessing their college prospects.

After a federal organization officially declared a recession last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 533,000 jobs were lost nationally in November-the biggest drop since 1974.

"I think that students, just like everybody else, are facing tough financial times," Irons said. "All of the strains on the economy are having a real impact on college because it is so expensive, and a lot of families may have less money to pay for college than they did six months ago."

While many students have been forced to take on extra jobs, others have opted to take out additional loans instead. Close to 73 percent of UC Berkeley students receive some sort of financial aid, but Nancy Coolidge, the UC systemwide coordinator for student financial support, said that number will probably go up.

Freshman Farrah Moos, whose family's business in Orange County has suffered from the economic downturn, currently receives about $6,000 in loans but is applying for an additional $9,000 in scholarships to compensate for her family's financial losses.

"We thought we would be okay," Moos said. "I mean we assumed that in the third or fourth year I would have to start covering costs, but now there's definitely a lot of added pressure."

Still, Coolidge said students should not have a problem receiving the aid they need. She likened the current situation to 1992, when a similarly acute recession saw a spike in students applying for aid.

"Students received the aid they need in '92, and they will get it again," Coolidge said.

Additionally, FAFSAs, which are filed in March, are based on the previous year's tax returns, making it easier for families suffering from the downturn to receive aid that was not previously needed, said Sandy Jensen, a financial aid administrator at UC Berkeley.

"If Farrah's family had a big setback this year, they may well qualify for a grant this time around, if their level of income and assets has gone down," Jensen said.

For many high school students, the economic crisis has shaped their college application process to accommodate their financial capabilities, according to Angela Price, college admissions counselor at Berkeley High School.

"Kids are doing early decision and early action right now, and what their list looks like definitely depends on the economic picture as a whole," she said.

Moos said her brother, a sophomore in high school, has already starting looking at scholarships.

"I think he wanted to go to Stanford," she said. "But now I don't think he'll even apply."

Even the application fee has become a daunting obstacle for some prospective college students. One of Truong's younger brothers might have forgone several of his applications if Truong had not intervened.

"My parents came up to me and told me that they couldn't afford my brother's application fees," he said. "But, I'm happy to pay them, because I want my brother to have the same opportunities as me."


Contact Anna Widdowson at [email protected]

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