How are students dealing with tuition costs?

By: Troy Daly, Staff Writer

Attending a university is a costly financial and mental balancing act. Students pursuing their education must learn to manage time working, socializing and take care of their personal health. This can lead to worsening mental health if not managed properly.

According to a student debt data collector, the average student loan debt in Maine was about $31,213 for the 2018 graduate. In August, Maine was ranked the 28th highest state in the country for student debt. This debt can cause stress for students who are financially responsible for their education. Having to pay for school usually means taking on student loan debt through, paying with scholarships or paying out of pocket.

“Financial stress is a big part of their stress.” said Dr. Liza Little, Director of Counseling Services at USM. “Is it the only stressor? No. The proportion of students who are also working while they go to school is very high… twenty years ago, students didn’t have to work two jobs to get through college,” Dr. Little.

Sylvia Enzler is a Psychology Major who generally takes 18 credits per semester. “I do have some [tuition payment] taken out with loans. USM did give me a really good scholarship and financial aid package, with most of my out of state tuition covered based on my grades and GPA from high school…” She has spent the last two years working in admissions for USM, as well as being a nanny during her freshman and sophomore years. Sylvia still works full time to pay additional out-of-pocket costs for travel and textbooks.

Kolbe Clifford is a senior transfer student, studying technology management. He averages 15-16 credits per semester. Clifford said he is using scholarships to pay most of his education costs.

“A transfer scholarship coming from SMCC. And also I applied to a couple [other] scholarships as well. And then whatever’s left over I’m pretty much just paying out of pocket or using FAFSA,” Clifford said. To afford what he pays of pocket, Clifford also works. “I’m currently doing an internship alongside. I’ve been doing it for about two years now… During the school year I’ll usually go down to working one day a week”

Enzler and Clifford are both working and taking advantage of the scholarships USM have to offer.

“Four or five years ago when we were at the peak of student borrowing at USM, we were loaning out about $55 million a year… and we’re now down to about $35 million a year,” said Keith Dubois, Director of Student Financial Services. Dubois said the recent $20 million difference is due to grants and scholarships students are receiving.

According to Dubois, not all of the available scholarships are being used.

“What we hear from all the academic departments that manage these scholarships is they have very few applicants,” Dubois said. “It would be nice to see more applicants in the pool. It also sends the message to the institutions, go out and raise more money.”

“Earlier is better when applying for scholarships,” said Dubois. To apply, students can visit usm.maine.edu/scholarships.

Dubois also recommends students try iGrad. It’s a program all USM students have free access to. “It’s financial literacy,” he explains. “It tells you how to plan out borrowing, how to borrow wisely [and] how to set up budgets.”

The number of students seeking help for mental health is increasing, though there is still a stigma surrounding the topic. Dr. Little explained that some students are nervous to try counseling at first, but are often surprised at the positive outcome. There are several different counselors to choose from on campus, as well as peer lead groups to join. The peer lead community is called the Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC). They offer student activity groups and a safe community for students to deal with mental health and additional issues.

“Try us out,” said Dr. Little about counseling at USM. There’s no commitment and there’s no charge. And if they’re worried that somehow they’re going to make a fool of themselves, I can’t think of a safer place to be yourself.”

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