INA –The cost of college was the hottest topic at the ICE Fair Tuesday night in James “Hummer” Waugh Gym at Rend Lake College.
The Illinois College Exposition Fair, a college cattle call of sorts, allows for representatives of various colleges and universities in the tri-state area to meet, inform and recruit potential students and their parents. It has been an annual tradition at RLC for nearly a decade.
Hundreds converged on the campus in Ina. Some knew exactly what they were looking for and some were just learning. All of those asked for this story said cost was at the very top of their checklist.
Bruce Pearce, along with son Casey and wife Kelli of Norris City, went to the ICE Fair to see what may be in the cards for Casey – a good student with a stellar ACT score. They were in the same place two years ago when Casey’s brother was a senior.
“We learned a lot at the ICE Fair then, so we decided to come again” Bruce said. “It’s a good chance to get to know colleges without having to drive to every one of them. They are all here. You can ask all your questions and get all the information you need.”
The big question for the Pearces isn’t what Casey wants to do. He has that covered. It’s where will he be able to do it.
“Cost,” said Bruce. “That’s the big thing. We’re looking at financial aid options and what it costs as far as housing and tuition.”
The Pearces, like most at the ICE Fair, probably stopped by the booths for the University of Illinois, and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and Carbondale. And like most, they probably shuddered at annual sticker prices for tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses – (U of I Champaign/Urbana $24,714 - $28,866; SIUC $20,750; SIUE $15,000-plus).
Tuition for incoming freshman this fall rose 9.9 percent or $627 a year at SIUC and 11.9 percent or $622.50 a year at SIUE. U of I’s flagship campus at Champaign/Urbana tipped the $20,000 mark for the first time ever with their tuition increase for FY09. Jonathan Elugbadebo with U of I’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions wasn’t sure what percentage or dollar amount increase was approved by the university’s Board of Trustees.
“It wasn’t anything significant like a big, noticeable jump,” he said. “That’s just what it is.”
That makes the $74 per credit-hour rate at RLC – $3,500 in annual tuition, books, supplies and fees – an attractive option for the first two years, according to Harold and Trell Cockrum. They were at the ICE Fair with their son, Mitchell Kirk – a senior at Sesser-Valier High School who wants to pursue a career in medicine.
“In terms of quality and affordability, Rend Lake College is a great option versus a four-year institution,” said RLC Recruiter Jason Swann. “Students receive just as good of instruction, with smaller class size, and more one-on-one opportunity with a full-time faculty member. The bottom line is that, in today’s economy, everyone is looking for the more-affordable option. You can be just as successful coming out of RLC and going to a four-year university. A bachelor’s degree is just as credible for a transfer student as it is for a four-year student. I’ve never been in a job interview where the question was asked, ‘Where did you start college.’”
Kirk said he visited the booth for Barnes-Jewish Hospital and is looking at completing his first two years, close to home, at RLC where Trell Cockrum graduated from the nursing program.
“I loved it. Loved it. Loved it,” she said.
“I already know it’s high,” Harold said of the cost of college, particularly med school. “My question is, how do you do it?”
“Parents here at the ICE Fair are asking a lot about scholarships and financial aid,” said Holly Krake with SIUC’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
One hurdle some parents and students met Tuesday night was that they cannot fill out a Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) and learn what they are eligible for until Jan. 1 – after college applications are long-since mailed out. Krake’s advice is “apply anyway” to the college. Director of Financial Aid at RLC, Doug Carlson, pointed out that students enrolling at RLC can apply for admission, financial aid and register – all on the same day. In fiscal year 2008, the Rend Lake College Foundation awarded $335,510 in scholarships to RLC students. And that figure is expected to be higher by the close of FY09 in June.
Carlson offered some additional advice for families wanting to know their financial aid eligibility.
“Students and parents can go online to www.collegezone.com and find a financial aid estimator they can use,” Carlson said. Before doing that, have 2007 tax returns handy. “They wouldn’t have to be exact on their income last year, but the closer they are the better estimate they will get.
“A lot of it is just like filling out the FAFSA itself,” he added. “From collegezone.com, click on student and scroll down to state and federal aid estimator. It will give you an estimate of the federal Pell Grant and federal MAP grant one may be eligible for.”
He said, most of the time, students who come to his office are able to give him an approximate income for their family and he can tell if they will be eligible or not. However, there are those close to the borderline.
“There is that big middle area that we are unsure of because of certain variables,” he said. “In every case, we say to everyone, ‘go ahead and apply.’”
Testing the waters at Rend Lake is also a great way for undecided students to keep the cost low while they discover their career path.
“I’m not really sure where I want to go,” said RLC student Savanna Harrell of Opdyke. “I want to try and get some ideas of what is in the area.”
“We are trying to figure out what we can afford ... and what’s close,” said her father, Jeff Harrell. “They should have a seminar or something to teach parents the application process. It’s all foreign to us. We are hoping to get some insight from all of this.”