Laid Off, But College Costs Keep Adding Up

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Part of a weeklong series on the impact of the economy on higher education

About This Series

This week, Morning Edition studies The New College Math: families and students who are recalculating how much they can spend during a recession; colleges trying to fill seats; and an expansion in federal aid that could determine for some whether they attend college at all.

Dean and Terry Stanton have two sons in college, and their daughter is planning to start in the fall. They had the financing all figured out until a couple of months ago. The Stantons talk with Renee Montagne about how they are juggling college costs now that Dean has been laid off from his job in Silicon Valley.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This week, we're talking about the recession and higher education, and today, two families whose plans are in fluxed due to the economy. First, Dean and Terry Stanton have two sons in college. Their daughter is planning to start in the fall. They had the financing all figured out until a couple of months ago when Dean Stanton was laid off from the job he'd had in Silicon Valley for 24 years. The Stantons joined us from member station KQED. Three college educations on one income, which is a pretty big, you know, economic burden to begin with, but what are you going to do now?

Ms. TERRY STANTON: We are putting our house on the market, and we know that we'll take a hit on that, probably, but we feel that that's the right thing to do right now, not knowing where Dean's going to be working.

MONTAGNE: When you say take a hit, I mean, I presume you think that you can sell the house still and that will generate enough money to help out with these college educations?

Ms. STANTON: Yes. That's the hope at this point.

Mr. DEAN STANTON: We do not think we're going to get out as much as we've put into the house, but we hope to get enough that we could live on it if we need to. We have already used up most of our savings paying for the house that was just a little beyond our means even while I was working. But we intend to not let our problems slow down our kids and their advancement.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about those kids of yours.

Ms. STANTON: Sure.

MONTAGNE: I just - I know this. The two older children are both boys. The -your younger child is a daughter, and your sons are in school. Have you talked to them about a variety of options, taking a little time off?

Mr. STANTON: Absolutely. Our oldest we had hoped would be done with college by now when Melissa was ready to start, but he's not. And so we've asked him to try to find his own funding for the fall.

MONTAGNE: And then your second son…

Mr. STANTON: Graham is at San Jose State University, and he actually did take a term off and was working almost full time.

Ms. STANTON: He's pretty self-sufficient, but we were helping him with his tuition and housing while he was attending school full time.

MONTAGNE: So, to your daughter, Melissa, who's a high school senior, I gather. What kinds of schools is she looking at?

Ms. STANTON: She applied at all out-of-state schools, and she's been accepted at five of them so far. Some have come with nice financial aid in terms of scholarship. So far, they have been merit-driven, but we're also pursuing the need-driven as well to try to safely get her through at least a year.

MONTAGNE: You were saying some of those schools came with good financial offers. Is that also now a conversation that you might not have had a year and a half ago? That is…

Mr. STANTON: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Let's just put the one pile with the financial offers and one pile here without them. Yeah.

Ms. STANTON: Well, we're very analytical in our family, and I'm sure there will be flow charts involved before we're finished. She knows the situation. She knows that we're trying really hard. She's worked really hard in high school to get to where she is, you know, AP classes and honors programs, and we're really trying to be supportive of that so that she can make this dream a reality. But eventually, we'll have to sit down and look at the numbers in a real hard and fast way and make a decision based on what we feel is appropriate.

MONTAGNE: You know, I'm wondering - there are a lot of people who financed their kids' education through such things as home equity loans. Did you do that at any point with your sons?

Mr. STANTON: We have a home equity line of credit. That's what we're using now that my income has stopped. I certainly expect to get a new job, but we're hoping for the best and trying to prepare for the worst.

MONTAGNE: What is the worst-case scenario that could happen in this situation for you?

Mr. STANTON: If the house does not sell and I don't have another job by, say, fall, then we'll be out of money.

Ms. STANTON: Well, we'll be dipping into retirement at that point, and we'd rather not do that if we don't have to, you know. But…

Mr. STANTON: Or borrowing from family or something.

Ms. STANTON: Yeah. It just is kind of an unfortunate circumstance that the market's so bad and the job has been lost in the last two months and kind of everything came together all at once.

MONTAGNE: Well, good luck to you, and thank you for talking with us.

Mr. STANTON: Thank you.

Ms. STANTON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Dean and Terry Stanton, who live in Palo Alto, California, and are the parents of three college-age students.

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