Counseling to Deal with Paying for College

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Reacting to the alarming upward spiral in the cost of higher education, a few American companies are now beginning to offer their employees counseling to help them figure out how to pay for their children's college tuition and expenses.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Some parents worry about their children's weight; others about how to pay for their kids' college education. Many parents are turning to private counselors, but they can be expensive unless you work for one of a growing number of companies that offer such counseling as an employee benefit. From member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts, Susan Kaplan reports.

SUSAN KAPLAN reporting:

For 21 years, nurse Afonette Krafi(ph) has taken care of patients with head and neck problems.

Ms. AFONETTE KRAFI (Nurse, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary): This is the 11th floor in our medical/surgical/inpatient unit, and we have intermediate care unit.

KAPLAN: While Krafi cares for these patients at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Cambridge, she's also a mother, and her 18-year-old daughter Kaitlyn(ph) is going to college in September.

Ms. KRAFI: And she's applied to about 10 schools, I think, and she's decided she wants to go to Emmanuel College and stay here in Boston, because all of a sudden, she doesn't want to leave me. (Laughs)

KAPLAN: Krafi's laughter stops as the subject turns to money and how she's going to pay for college. When she heard the hospital's new benefit included a workshop on financial aid, she rushed to sign up, which is exactly what the hospital's human resource director, Diana Keller(ph), was counting on.

Ms. DIANA KELLER (Human Resource Director, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary): We're a small institution, so we try to find benefits that are a little bit innovative, that the other big Harvard teaching hospitals currently aren't offering.

KAPLAN: To provide the benefit, Keller signed up with College Coach, a company based in Newton, Massachusetts. They offer a range of packages for corporations to choose from. Some companies spend less than $20,000 annually, others up to $500,000. The one that fit the hospital's modest budget includes two workshops: one on financial aid and one called Beating the Admissions Game. Employees also have the option of one-on-one sessions with the guidance counselor. Keller says her decision to choose College Coach was also based on employee demographics.

Ms. KELLER: So I knew that we had about 568 employees in the age bracket, age 30 to 55, and those are exactly the folks that would be having kids thinking about college, going into college.

KAPLAN: Keller says her hunch paid off. In a very quiet and out-of-the-way-of-patients auditorium, about three dozen doctors, nurses and food service workers read through handouts as College Coach Rob Weinerman delivers the sobering financial news.

Mr. ROB WEINERMAN (College Coach): And everybody knows that tuition is part of the cost of attendance, but you're also going to have to feed and clothe and house your child. And at some schools, those costs are higher than tuition costs. There's also books and fees.

KAPLAN: At the end of the hour, Weinerman encourages everyone to sign up for a one-on-one session.

Mr. WEINERMAN: Well, thank you very much for coming. It's been a pleasure. I will be here the next three days.

(Soundbite of applause)

KAPLAN: Employees said the new benefit made them feel more positive about working at the hospital. Firms like College Coach are profiting from a growing trend towards helping older children in the same way they've offered benefits for younger kids. Ken Sorvino's(ph) got younger kids, but he's already starting to look ahead. He runs the hospital cafeteria and says he doesn't know anyone who gets this sort of benefit.

Mr. KEN SORVINO (Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary): It hit a chord with me, because my kids are 11 and seven, and I'm going to have eight consecutive years, God willing, of college tuitions, so I thought, `Well, it's a good time to probably get some education on it.'

KAPLAN: And Sorvino says the counseling has already paid off. Right after the workshop, he went to his bank and opened up an IRA. For NPR News, I'm Susan Kaplan.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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