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More College Students Are Only Scraping By As Economy Continues Tailspin

I've seen this from the parent side, as several friends struggled last September to borrow tuition money for their kids after last-minute financial ai

I've seen this from the parent side, as several friends struggled last September to borrow tuition money for their kids after last-minute financial aid cuts. I never realized the students were struggling, too. Sounds dumb, but you don't think of college students (who are still a relatively privileged group) as needing food banks:

Struggling college students are having an even more difficult time because of the financial downturn.

Some opt to wait in food-pantry lines. Others have stopped drinking soda, using their cars or eating out.

"I have noticed all around that prices have gone up. Rent, food and basic utilities … it is a lot harder to survive," says Natalie Romero, 24, a student at Metropolitan State College in Denver, which opened a food bank on campus in September.

"We have been seeing in the past year that many of our students are in need of the basic necessities," says Johanna Maes, assistant dean of student life.

The Community College of Denver has offered a food bank to students for more than 10 years, but in the past year there been a significant increase in its use, says Jerry Mason, director of student life: "We are actually having trouble keeping up." The student government has doubled its annual funding from $3,000 to $6,000 to help with the increased demand, he says.

Federal financial aid applications filed nationwide for this fiscal year increased by 9% compared with last year, a projected 1.2 million more applicants, according to Department of Education data.

"Any time there is a recession, financial need increases," says Mark Kantrowitz of FinAid.org, an online resource for students. And schools that rely on state support are likely to see costs rise even more. "I'm already hearing from colleges that are discussing 10%, 13% increases" in tuition, he says.

Financial strategist Paul Rivers says parents losing their jobs has played a key role in more students seeking aid; 30% of his clients were declared eligible for more aid from their college because of an "unusual circumstance" last year.

"In the middle of the year, a parent may lose a job and fall down to a lower income bracket," says Rivers, head of Sourcesforstudents.com, a New York-based financial aid consulting company.

He says the number of students who qualify for "unusual circumstances" has increased steadily for five years. "The cost of education continues to increase despite what is going on with the economy."

For Matt Long, 28, of Berkeley City College in Oakland, cutting back on expenses last semester meant walking 45 minutes to campus because he couldn't afford the $3 bus fare. He also cut back on meals. "I usually drank coffee, and that got me through the first half of the day," Long says. "My friends kept saying, 'You look skinny.' I have gotten sick as a result of my diet." He says his finances have stabilized since he received his financial-aid check.

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