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College transfers reflect economy

Sun., July 5, 2009

Public universities see increase in students returning to state

SEATTLE – A few months ago, Rebecca Gottlieb faced a difficult choice: continue at her $50,000-a-year private school in Massachusetts, or leave her new friends and life and enroll at a cheaper school near home in Washington.

Gottlieb, 19, decided to transfer, dumping Tufts University for Western Washington University and joining the growing numbers of college students realizing that attending their dream school was no longer financially sustainable.

“My parents set up a college fund for me when I was little,” the 19-year-old from Bainbridge Island said. “One year there almost drained it.”

When she starts classes in the fall at Western’s campus overlooking Bellingham Bay, Gottlieb will be paying about $15,000 a year and be in the company of plenty of other transfers.

The public college had an unusually large number of transfer applications this year, said admissions director Karen Copetas. The school saw a 28.5 percent increase in the number of students who wanted to move from another four-year school.

Copetas said the students gave many reasons for their decision, but money came up repeatedly. She said they are being cost-conscious consumers and wondering if it’s necessary to spend so much money on an undergraduate education when expensive graduate school may be in the future.

Admissions directors at public universities around the country are reporting bumps in transfer applications, said Barmak Nassirian, a spokesman for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Graduating high-schoolers are determined to avoid having to transfer due to money. A National Association for College Admission Counseling survey released this month showed 71 percent of high schools reported that more of their students are forgoing their “dream schools” than in previous years.

Unjy Park, of Tacoma, had a scholarship and a federal grant, but was still struggling to pay a $10,000 bill at Philadelphia University this past year.

Her South Korean immigrant parents tried to help, but their drywall business had gone from extremely busy to almost nonexistent in the past two years. With plans for medical school, Park was also concerned about collecting too many student loans.

“I kept getting more and more worried about it,” she said.

So Park, 19, the first person in her family to go to college, also decided to transfer to Western Washington University.

The school’s financial aid office hasn’t processed Park’s application yet, but the maximum federal grant she could receive at Western is $5,350 and the maximum state need grant would be $5,030. She may qualify for other scholarships, paid jobs on campus and loans, as well.

Nassirian noted, however, that students may not save much money if they switch schools after more than two years at a college. This may force them to spend an extra semester or two in class to get a degree because the last two years of a degree are tailored by each institution.

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