College Choices Shift to Thrift

New York Post
April 27, 2009

By Yoav Gonen and Amber Sutherland

The uncertain economy is pushing city teens picking a college to play it safe this year — forcing many of them to reluctantly say “no” to their dream schools.

While kids have until Friday in most cases to commit to one school, many say they are still torn between their hearts and their heads in making the decision of a lifetime.

“I definitely am stressing,” said Deepra Yusuf, an 18-year-old senior at the elite Bronx HS of Science. “My mother lost almost all of her savings, so I really don’t have any kind of cushion.”

Even with financial aid, Yusuf would have to pay about $15,000 a year to attend the private liberal-arts Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania or Macalester College in Minnesota. She said she is leaning toward the City University of New York’s Macaulay Honors College, which is public and tuition-free.

“I’m conflicted, because I’ve always wanted to go to a smaller college that had a tight-knit community,” said Yusuf. But “if I end up going to a private school, how am I going to end up paying this money back?”

Applications have surged by about 10 percent at CUNY this year, while SUNY and public universities elsewhere saw similarly unprecedented spikes in interest.

Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant at Top Colleges in Manhattan, said he was working with two Stuyvesant HS families debating between expensive big-name schools — Northwestern University in one case and the University of Texas in the other — and SUNY-Binghamton, a much cheaper option.

The cost difference for each family after four years would top $100,000.

“In every year there’s often a tension between prestige and cost,” Goodman said. “This year that tension is more acute.”

Students told The Post they were itemizing costs to compare their college options: the living expenses, the availability of student jobs on campus, and even the cost of plane tickets for family visits.

Chaele Nicholson, a 17-year-old senior at Thomas Edison HS in Queens, said he had been so excited to get accepted at the University of New Haven — whose small size seemed like the perfect fit for him — that he sent a thank-you letter in return.

But in an economy where a job is far from guaranteed after graduation, he was forced to admit that the $35,000 annual price tag was too risky.

Stuck without a cheaper alternative, he’s enrolling at a community college for the fall.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” he said. “I wanted to try something new, but it didn’t work out.”

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