College students pay a growing share of college costs, national study finds

by Silas Allen Modified: July 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm •  Published: July 22, 2012
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Whenever Madison Rial is pouring pints or slinging cocktails behind the bar at O'Connell's Irish Pub in Norman, there's a good chance she's doing it on short sleep.

Rial, a fifth-year senior at the University of Oklahoma, tends bar at the Campus Corner pub to pay for school. Between a full-time job and a full schedule of classes, Rial, 23, doesn't always have time for eight hours of sleep. So she does whatever she can to get by.

“I've learned how to shotgun Red Bulls,” she said.

Recent research shows Rial and others like her make up a growing percentage of the nation's college students. According to the 2012 “How America Pays for College” study, the average American college student paid a larger share of the cost of his or her education through work and student loans in the 2011-12 academic year than four years prior.

The annual study was released by student loan giant Sallie Mae last week. According to the study, the average student paid for 18 percent of the cost of college through loans last year, up from 14 percent in the 2008-09 academic year. The amount paid through student income and savings also increased in the same period, going from 10 percent in 2008-09 to 12 percent last year.

The study suggests the increase offsets a decline in the amount of the cost of college paid by students' parents. In the 2008-09 academic year, parents paid 36 percent of the cost of college. Last year, that figure dropped to 28 percent.

Grants and scholarships also make up a growing share of the college funding picture. During the 2010-11 academic year, grants and scholarships overtook parent income and savings as the largest single funding source for college costs.

In that year, grants and scholarships covered 33 percent of the overall cost of college, while parents covered 30 percent.

Last year, grants and scholarships covered 29 percent of the cost — a smaller share than the previous year but still the largest single funding source.

Financial realities

According to the report, virtually all families surveyed took some kind of cost-saving measures to help offset the cost of college. Half of the students surveyed reported working more hours to help pay for college.

Rial doesn't get any financial help from her parents, so combining her job tending bar with Pell Grants and student loans was the only way to pay for college. Although her job is necessary, she thinks she could have finished school in four years if she hadn't had to work. As it stands, she said, she could be in school as many as six years.

“It definitely puts a strain on your school,” she said.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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These are big financial decisions they're making at a very young age. There's a lot of interest right now in financial planning and how to help students understand money.”

Brad Burnett

Director of financial aid at the University of Oklahoma

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