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Recession plus increased tuition costs hit USU married students hard

December 15th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Allie Jeppson

LOGAN — In July, Utah State University student Joshua Harmison and wife Natalie found themselves jobless, faced with upcoming bills and tuition expenses in the fall. Both previous employees of CityDeals.com, Joshua and Natalie were laid off in the same month, along with about half of the company’s employees, because of the company’s financial struggle to stay afloat in today’s economy.

“Everything’s gone up,” Harmison, who’s now working on applying to pharmacy school, said. “We have to use a lot more of the money we [now] earn to take care of ourselves.”

Joshua and Natalie aren’t the only two to feel the sting of recession. Many USU students, particularly married students, are challenged with the economy’s rising prices and job instability.

While the recession was declared officially over in June 2009 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, gas prices, utilities and insurance rates continually increase as the pressure on married students to gain an education and provide for a family grows greater than ever.

“I’ve grown up in a way where school actually matters a little more to me,” junior in nutrition science Kyle Tuttle said. “Its easier to learn and study because money’s a big issue, so I spend my time studying.”

“When you need to make that money and do well,” added Tuttle’s wife Cherish, “you see your education as a safety belt.”

However, students are finding it harder to pay necessary expenses on top of yearly tuition increases.

According to the common data set files produced by the USU Office of Analysis, Assessment and Accreditation, the cost of tuition for the fall 2007 semester (when the recession first began according to the National Bureau of Economic Research) was $3,831 for in-state students, not including a student fee cost of $613. By 2009 the cost of tuition was at $4,345 with $804 in student fees and reached $4,737 plus $825 of student fees by fall of 2010 (Common Data Set files were not available for the 2011-2012 school year).

And tuition is only half of it. Married students face other expenses that many single students don’t because of the independence from their parents and the double costs to provide for two people rather than just one.

“Married students have all the expenses of single students but doubled,” senior in Accounting Abby Gines said. “Each person needs food, clothing, cars. I can’t imagine having kids while going to school for that reason, because there are already a lot more expenses with just two adults.”

Bills for married students include insurance (health, car and home), higher rent, Internet and phone bills, car payments, gas and groceries and not to mention, tuition. Still, the prices continue to grow in each area.

Junior in business Steve Vincent and wife Allie, a junior in social work, thought differently.

“To an extent its cheaper,” Steve said. “Things we have are probably more expensive individually, but we have [double] the income to support those expenses.”

Jobs are no picnic either. Single students can often get by without working because other than tuition, expenses are minimal. But with the economy in its current state and the increasing competition in the job market, work is required if married students are to comfortably support their cost of living.

“We were really worried about finding new jobs,” Harmison who works in USU catering said. “I’ve looked in Logan before and it’s a tough place to find a job for part-time students.”

The United States lost almost 8 million jobs during the recession and though we’re back a couple million now, students are a little less optimistic and less likely to even get married, Tyler Bowles, head of the Economics and Finance Department, said.

Junior in Family and Consumer Sciences Education Ashley Feller disagreed.

“I would never put off getting married just because of the economy,” Feller said. “There is always a way to get through the hard times and make it work, so I’d rather have my husband by my side than go through the hard times alone.”

However, students aren’t the only ones feeling a pinch. As a university, USU is forced to make budget cuts and raise tuition because of increased expenses in health care and utility costs, which most universities have no control over, USU Vice President for Student Services James Morales said.

“The series of cuts that we took were about $27 million from the budget,” Morales said. “And we’ve managed to keep tuition increases under 10 percent every year.”

Keeping costs down is a constant battle, USU President Stan Albrecht said. Especially with the loss of state support.

“As state support for state public higher education continues to be reduced, finding ways to maintain the quality of these great institutions becomes an ever-greater challenge,” Albrecht said. “Raising tuition in a recessionary period is particularly difficult, and certainly makes the challenges of our married students more difficult.”

One benefit of being married, though, is the easy acceptance for married students to receive financial aid. Because they are no longer recorded on their parent’s taxes, married students almost instantly qualify to receive government aid. And during the nation’s recessionary phase, the total percentage of students who benefit from this aid has remained at a constant rate of about 62 percent from 2007 to 2010.

“I was never able to receive any financial aid before I was married,” Gines said. “So it was awesome when I was able to apply and actually get more financial aid money than I was scholarship money.”

Through it all marriage has proven to be a doorway into reality, teaching students lessons through experience.

“We were both really good at saving money,” Natalie Harmison said. “So that when the job that we worked for went out of business … and we did get laid off, we weren’t too worried, we knew we’d be fine for a few months. That’s just a good feeling, to have that money so we could be self-supportive.”


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