In today's paper, a big story about the rising cost of college and the impact legislative decisions may have, in particular, on financial aid and debt levels.
In reporting the story, I ran across an interesting student at N.C. Central University, William Anyu. He didn't make the story, but his tale is worth telling here. A version will likely also appear in the Durham News at some point soon.
William Anyu is so tuned in to his finances that he can tell how much he spent on the clothes he’s wearing.
That gray cardigan was $15 from the clearance rack at J.C. Penney. The sweatpants? Ten bucks at Walmart.
The N.C. Central University sophomore is proud of his financial smarts. But ask him about the rising costs of college, and a brief storm cloud shadows his sunny disposition.
“It’s a depressing thought,” he said one recent evening during his graveyard shift manning the front desk of a NCCU residence hall. “I can’t do anything about it.”
Anyu is far from alone. Across North Carolina, public university students are feeling the effects of the state’s continuing economic woes. Tuition has risen steadily as funding for higher education has been reduced. In the last four years, the UNC system has shouldered $620 million in cuts that have forced campuses to significantly curtail services. And the next fiscal year promises to be worse. The state House’s budget proposal would cut nearly $472 million from the university system, a 15 percent reduction.
Over the last decade, tuition for public universities has grown as much as 200 percent. Last year alone, NCCU tuition rose 24 percent, and Anyu pays largely through loans. He already owes more about $15,000, and he’s just halfway through college.
But it’s still worth it. The degree he’s pursuing in mass communication, with a minor in English, is a necessary starting point toward a life far more comfortable than that led by his mother, who earns $21,000 a year working in a nursing home.
Eventually, he wants to go to law school. Yes, more loans are on the horizon.
“These days,” he said, “A bachelor’s degree isn’t enough.”
Anyu has the right attitude, said Kevin Rome, NCCU’s vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management. Rome counsels students not to fear debt and fights entitlement - the notion some students have that their education should be paid by someone else. He pushes accountability and the value of education,
not often an easy sell to poor students who struggle to pay their tuition and fear long-term debt.
“For an 18 or 19-year-old, having $30,000 or $40,000 in debt, for someone from a low-wealth family, that’s overwhelming,” Rome said.
“But they know life is so much better when you have the expertise to pay it off.”
Anyu took a circuitous route to NCCU. A native of Minneapolis, he is the youngest of six siblings, all of whom have gone to college – many close to home, most incurring debt. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota’s Mankato campus, a popular choice among his friends and just an hour from home.
But Anyu quickly realized he wanted to escape the comfortable and challenge himself somewhere new and unfamiliar. The Mankato campus is part of a national campus exchange program that allows students to attend college in other states while paying tuition to their home school. Through that, he discovered NCCU.
“The moment I stepped foot on campus, I felt I was home,” he said. So here he is, closing in on the end of his sophomore year of college, his first in Durham. He’s paid in-state rates so far, but that deal ends soon. Under the terms of the exchange program, he’ll now be a full-fledged out-of-state NCCU student, paying
$13,525 a year.
That’s roughly $10,000 more than he’s paying now, which helps to explain why Anyu spends many of his nights at the front desk of NCCU’s Ruffin Residence Hall, filing papers, working on his homework and helping students who locked themselves out of their rooms. It’s quiet here in the middle of the night, the silence interrupted by the occasional student passing through the lobby, and the clickety-clicking of hands on keyboards in the nearby computer lab. A student will occasionally approach the front desk, say hi to Anyu, and rummage through the basket of free condoms set out on the counter.
Anyu does receive some federal Pell Grant funding, but his financial aid package is still largely comprised of loans, he said. And since he’ll soon be paying out-of-state rates, the $15,000 or so in debt Anyu has rolled up so far could double by the time he gets his bachelor’s degree. if he’s going from in-state to out-of-state tuition, i’d bet it’ll be more than that. So it’s not like this desk job that pays nine bucks an hour will save him the burden of years of post-graduate debt.
But it provides a small margin for fun. He works 19 hours a week, including three straight nights on the midnight to 5 am. shift, and brings in $342 every two weeks. He puts $100 into his savings account, and uses the rest to pay for his phone, credit card and the occasional burger from somewhere other than the campus dining
He keeps close tabs on his bank account, tracking deposits and withdrawals while living in fear of the bank’s $35 overdraft charge.
“To me, knowing how much money I have is like breathing,” he said.