Current events have created a financial double whammy for Aliesha Young, a Dorsey High School senior who is more stressed out over paying for college than about getting accepted into one.
Her mother, a Ralphs supermarket employee, is on strike. And as a result of the huge state deficit, fees at Cal State Long Beach, which the 17-year-old wants to attend, were increased 30% this year.
"My parents are not poor, but we're not wealthy, either," said Young, who visited the second annual College and Career Convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Wednesday. Her stepfather is a longshoreman, and she believes that she does not qualify for some financial aid. Paying for college, she said, "is an extreme worry of mine."
With costs for higher education nearly double what they were 10 years ago, according to a study recently released by the College Board, thousands of students at the fair Wednesday were filling out applications for loans, scholarships and financial aid.
"All of these budget cuts are taking away from all of us," said Young, who recently took a job at the Disney Store earning $6.75 an hour to save money. She has been spending her free time exploring a scholarship site called fastweb.com; she spent Wednesday stuffing a white plastic bag with financial aid applications.
The free conference features financial experts, college recruiters, and education, labor and community leaders offering counseling and encouragement that state and private aid is available. The gathering is sponsored by Mayor James K. Hahn, the City Council, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
The conference is open to all Los Angeles area students and their families. It continues today from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information call (213) 482-9847 or go to www.lafreecashforcollege.org.
"We're finally getting their attention," said Doris Keller, a financial aid specialist for the California Student Aid Commission. In the past, students often ignored advice about applying for the state aid program known as Cal Grants. Now they are "pretty scared. They want to go to college, but their parents can't afford it," she said.
Cal State system fees were raised this summer by $474, from $1,572 annually to $2,046. Combined with individual campus fees, an average year's fees for a Cal State undergraduate are $2,544.
UC undergraduate fees climbed $1,150 per year, to $4,984. With additional individual campus fees, undergraduates who are California residents pay about $5,400 a year on average, excluding room, board and mandatory health insurance.
According to the College Board survey, tuition at four-year private colleges, not including room and board, averaged $19,710 this year, up 6% from 2002.
Under the Cal Grant program, any California student who has at least a C average, and meets income and asset requirements, is eligible to receive money for higher education in California. The grants vary with the institution -- whether community college, Cal State, University of California or private campus.
Financial aid specialist Keller handed 16-year-old Wichhica Nhim a stack of Cal Grant forms. "You're going to get those applications in by the end of the month, right?" Keller said.
Nhim, a senior at the Downtown Business Magnet High School, wants to attend Cal State L.A. or Long Beach to study criminal justice. The fee increases are "hurting students who are trying to go to college," he said.