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Board Seeks $69 Million More For Student Financial Aid Request To Legislature Would Help 20,000 More Go To College

The rapid rise in the cost of college is bringing a new call for more financial aid money.

The state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board agreed Wednesday to seek $69 million more for student aid over the next two years. That represents a 50 percent increase over the current budget.

If approved by lawmakers, the increase would help some 20,000 additional college students, on top of the 43,000 currently being served by state aid.

“We are trying to make it easier for students to get to college and not worry about finances when they get there,” said Vicki McNeill of Spokane, a member of the board.

She said the state expects about 87,000 more college students by the year 2010.

Annual tuition for resident undergraduate students at Washington State University has doubled over the past 10 years, outstripping inflation, from $1,605 to $3,136 this fall.

Similar increases have occurred at the state’s other colleges and universities.

Included in the financial aid request is $54 million for outright grants based on need to help low-income families put students through college.

Officials said that additional money would let the state raise the income thresholds for families eligible for assistance, making more of the grant money available to middle-income families.

The board also plans to ask the state to increase funding for work-study grants by $15 million to add about 4,700 more students. The program currently serves about 8,100 students with $26 million.

At WSU, about 1,000 students are on work-study grants.

“It would sure reduce the struggle our students currently have,” said Karen Driscoll, director of financial aid for Spokane Falls Community College, where 350 students are on work-study.

The program has been popular because it gives students a chance to work in professional settings while taking classes, Driscoll said. The state pays about 65 percent of their salaries, which range from $6.50 to $9.50 an hour.

Spokane schools, non-profit agencies and social service providers are among the off-campus employers.

She said SFCC always has more students seeking aid than money available.

McNeill said too many students are finishing school owing thousands of dollars on interest-bearing loans. Still worse is the problem of students dropping out after borrowing money for college and then not having the job skills they need for a good income to make the payments.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Higher education tuition fees increase



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