Georgia College students learn tough economics lessons as cost of living rises
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gLoads of dogs frolicked on Kennesaw State University’s green campus on a Wednesday in April, wagging their tails as groups of students scratched their hairy heads and threw tennis balls at them.
This was part of a university initiative to help students relieve stress as they head to finals, and students across the state are dealing with a lot of stress related to academics, relationships, problems families and, increasingly, finances.
One of the students gathered on the green was Kevin Lopez, a member of the Class of 2024. He pays for his own college education by working in construction and says he feels the pinch of rising prices.
“Sometimes it kind of affects my work in class, because obviously sometimes I arrive late and really don’t have time because of work,” he said. “Sometimes it also disrupts my work schedule. It’s just kinda hard, I mean, being financially stable and being in school at the same time.
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The Georgia Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public higher education system, announced this month that it will not raise tuition fees for 25 of its 26 institutions, except for the Middle Georgia State University, which will see an increase of $17 per credit hour for in-state undergraduates and $64 for out-of-state undergraduates.
Students like Lopez will also benefit from some end-of-fee relief instituted in 2009 to compensate for budget cuts following the Great Recession. Lawmakers added $230 million to the state higher education budget to allow for the cut, which will leave between $170 and $544 per semester in the pockets of Georgia students.
Because it was treated as a fee rather than tuition, students couldn’t use the HOPE scholarship to pay for it, so getting rid of it is a big deal, said Caitlin Highland of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. .
So is another budget change setting HOPE scholarships and grants at 90% of tuition. Previously, prices varied from year to year and from institution to institution. This will benefit about 75,000 students at public and private universities in Georgia, Highland said, saving students up to $780 a year.
Over the past 15 years, enrollment of students from low-income families in the university system has increased by 85%, according to GBPI. Four out of 10 students attending schools in the Georgia University System, Georgia Technical College System, and Georgia Independent College Association are eligible for need-based federal Pell Grants.
Until now, Georgia was one of only two states without a state-funded needs-based aid program, Highland said, but a bill awaiting Governor Brian’s signature Kemp could change that.
“HB 1435 creates need-based completion scholarships for students who have completed at least 80% of their program of study but are experiencing financial hardship,” she said. “This represents an opportunity for the state to remove the barriers that prevent Georgian students from accessing the economic opportunities that higher education programs can provide. Completion scholarships are a meaningful way for legislators to help students complete their degree programs when their financial aid options have been exhausted. The current version of the fiscal year 2023 budget includes a $10 million allocation for the Completion Grant program.
An education is still not cheap
Tuition and fees are the most expensive part of a college education, and Georgian students have it better than students in most other states with a relatively low average cost of $7,457 per semester for in-state tuition and fees compared to a national average of $9,349, according to educationdata.org.
Students who borrow money to attend college end up paying an average of just under $1,900 in interest each year and spend an average of 20 years repaying their loan.
Room and board aren’t cheap either – the average American student living on campus pays around $11,300 a year for housing, while living off campus costs around $10,600 on average.
And rents are up nationwide — in March, the average rental price for a two-bedroom apartment rose 22.2% nationwide and 31.4% in Georgia, according to data from rent.com .
Kennesaw State junior Jack Stover lives in a house with four roommates, and his parents pay half of his $600 share of the rent.
Stover says he’s grateful for the help, but he’s cut spending in other ways — staying home instead of going out with friends, buying his clothes at thrift stores and cutting his grocery budget.
There’s a stereotype that college kids survive on instant noodles and junk food, but many say they often don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Educationdata.org found that 45% of college students experience frequent food insecurity. More than half of students at two-year institutions say they worry about running out of food, as do 44% of 4-year-olds.
Meanwhile, the consumer price index for food rose 8.8% in the year ending March, the biggest 12-month increase since 1981, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics.
Stover said college taught him to buy groceries in bulk when he could and to watch out for bargains.
“Kroger has good prices on chicken breasts, so I just take a pound or two of chicken breasts and split them into three to five days, then I have rice, you can do anything with that, put it on tortillas,” he said. “I know how to shop on a budget now. You kind of learn how to shop on a budget and how to make the most of it.
The rise in the price of gasoline dwarfs that of food — it rose 48% between March 2021 and March 2022, the BLS found.
Destinee Jordan, a freshman at Kennesaw, lives on campus, but she still has to fuel up at least once a week to and from work, and luckily her parents can help her with the gasoline money.
“We try to work as much as we can and try to save from that, and honestly my parents help me out, but even with that it’s still a bit difficult trying to make it through college as a that student, I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “Things happen. We kind of start to be adults and grow. So we started having things to pay for, like bills and stuff, so it can get tough sometimes, but we’re just trying to work and save as much as we can.
Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact editor John McCosh with any questions: [email protected] Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.
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