Instead of living in a residence hall on campus, walking from class to class and eating in the dining hall with her friends, Courtney Gibson chose a different college path. Gibson made the decision to forgo a typical freshman year of college to attend Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City to help her family save money after the recession took its toll on families across America.
“My parents were extremely supportive of my college decision,” Gibson said. “They were proud that I understood the gravity of these economic times and looked to the future instead of getting wrapped up in the excitement of going to a big university.”
From the winter of 2007 to the summer of 2009, the United States experienced one of the worst recessions in its history. Two years after the period was officially declared over, a report by the New York Times said that while the recession may be part of the past, income for U.S. citizens is still falling.
The decrease in income comes at a time when the cost of college is at an all-time high and many students like Gibson must make sacrifices to earn their college degrees. Gibson plans on attending Maple Woods for one year before enrolling at MU for the fall 2012 semester.
“At Maple Woods, I've seen many 2010 graduates from my high school who came back from big, expensive four-year schools to attend a cheaper community college,” Gibson said. “In reality, there is so much to gain by spending your first two years at a cheaper school, then transferring to a bigger school for your major-specific classes. While yes, I was afraid to miss out on all the freshman excitement of a big university, I now have no regrets in my decision. Many of my peers got the experience of a big university, but I will get the experience of being debt-free sooner. And that's so worth it to me.”
For in-state students, the Missouri Department of Higher Education offers scholarships and financial aid for residents who maintain certain GPA and graduation requirements. Among these is the A+ scholarship program allowing students from certain Missouri high schools to attend either community college or vocational schools with additional funding from the state to cover the cost of tuition and fees.
Students receiving the scholarship must have been in class 95 percent of the time, have a 2.5 GPA and volunteered as a tutor for at least 50 hours during their high school career, according to the MDHE’s website.
“I've found the A+ program to be very helpful,” Gibson said. “It aids me in getting my general education classes out of the way so that I can spend my money on my major-specific classes.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Nixon made the decision to decrease funding for state-run scholarships like the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program, but also increased funding for the A+ program by $7 million, according to Nixon’s website. Now, $29 million in state funding goes toward the program.
“I know it's helping many students, including myself, understand what it is to sacrifice for much greater rewards in the long run,” Gibson said. “This is a problem that's looking to get worse before it gets better, so I believe people will begin to do all they can to stay on top of finances, especially in education.”
According to the Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Ann Korschgen, out-of-state enrollment at MU has increased significantly over the past three years.
“MU remains a great value given the quality education that students receive,” said. “We are increasing our financial aid budget on a yearly basis to ensure we are providing as much assistance as we can to students who have financial need.”
While many college students will return home for a week to celebrate with their families over Thanksgiving break, freshman Lindsey Marschka, a resident of Lancaster, Penn., will go home with her roommate to Chicago, instead of traveling to her own home, in order to save money.
Next semester, when most students go home at the end of the school year to intern, work and catch up with old friends, Marschka will spend her summer in Missouri in hopes of becoming an instate resident to help manage the cost of college.
“In the long run, education is important,” Marschka said. “Although unemployment is soaring and debt just seems to be piling up more and more each day, it is nothing compared to working hard and reaping the benefits. I have absolutely considered that I will be paying for this experience for the rest of my life. I simply neglect the money side of things at this time, which I feel that people with drive and ambition should too.”
Despite hard economic times taking their toll on many college students’ families, enrollment this year set a record high for MU with more than 1,300 more students than the year before, according to an MU news release.