The economy may be bouncing back, but college-bound students in search of an affordable education face a bumpy ride.
Federal stimulus money, which helped many public universities hold tuition down, is about to dry up. Some private schools, including Williams and Dartmouth, are paring financial aid. House Republicans have proposed cutting the maximum Pell Grant given to needy students.
Economic uncertainty in recent years is reflected in changes to The Princeton Review's 100 Best Value Colleges, published online today by USA TODAY. The fluctuation over three years in the list, which features 50 public and 50 private schools culled from about 700 surveyed, suggests that many colleges are struggling to stay affordable.
Changes are ahead this fall:
*The University of Georgia (ranked fifth on the list) has remained a top-10 stalwart among public universities. But Georgia recently cut half the book stipend from its popular merit-based HOPE scholarship, and deeper cuts are likely.
*At least 45 Best Value schools have eliminated or capped loans from student aid packages in recent years. But Williams (ranked sixth), will reintroduce loans for some students this fall, and Yale (10th) has adjusted its formula for determining aid for some higher-income families.
*State University of New York-Binghamton (fourth), where tuition has gone up three times in 15 years, has stayed in the top 10 position over three years. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, wants to keep next year's tuition flat for all SUNY students, but even some students want an increase.
"We understand that the governor is concerned about pricing students out by raising tuition, but that won't even be an issue if their program can't be found in the SUNY system," says Julie Gondar, SUNY student assembly president.
"Many schools have been under great pressure," says Robert Franek, a senior vice president of The Princeton Review. The 100 Best Value Colleges for 2011 "have made a clear commitment this year, specifically, to make sure financial aid is ... even more available."
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