College students minimize costs by sacrificing health, future investments

Joe Helmer at MU's Plaza 900 Dinning Hall Thursday, July 15, 2015. Helmer has worked at the dining hall since just before winter break. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Joe Helmer at MU’s Plaza 900 Dinning Hall Thursday, July 15, 2015. Helmer has worked at the dining hall since just before winter break. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Story written by Nick Kelly.

COLUMBIA — Cici Jones did everything she could to reduce her apartment’s $150 monthly electrical bill.

She slept with two to three comforters so she didn’t need to turn on the heat until the winter became unbearably cold. Jones also used lamps instead of ceiling lights for lighting.

Through her efforts, Jones reduced her monthly electrical bill to $70, which was the only way she could afford to live in her apartment.

“It came to the point where I realized that I would need to make extreme sacrifice to pay the bills,” Jones said.

Jones’ situation is common among college students who become frugal not because they want to — but because they have to.

Jones, a senior communications major at MU, works two jobs year-round and sometimes three jobs: at Plaza 900 Dining Hall, a call center and a work-study job.

Because of her busy schedule that keeps her away from home from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., her eating schedule suffers.

“I can’t eat healthy often,” she said. “I might eat one time a day and not till 10 or 11 (a.m.).”

She said she eats twice a day, if she is lucky.

Eating healthy also wasn’t much of an option for Mackenzie Rook, an MU senior history major. Her meals often consisted of food she found at fraternity parties, such as fruit rollups. Rook also frequently ate macaroni and cheese because of its convenience and how long she could make it last.

“It’s good the first time you reheat it,” Rook said. “It’s not good the second time. Then you start looking at your life and thinking, ‘Is this really worth it?’”

Her eating habits, which also included eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, were among the reasons she moved back in with her parents.

She didn’t like her living situation.

During her first year of college, Rook wanted to live in the dorm. Then, she moved to an apartment, thinking the move would solve everything.

She returned to her parents’ home by Thanksgiving of her sophomore year and has lived there since.

The reason for the frequent moving?

Rook didn’t like being poor and realized she lacked money for basic items such as toilet paper and detergent. She never bought items such as those before because her parents always provided them for her and her brother, Spenser, a sophomore physics major at MU.

Add on rent and sorority dues, and Rook quickly found out sometimes she wouldn’t have enough money for the basics.

“I would have zero dollars and still need toilet paper,” Rook said.

Rook’s desperation ultimately forced her to become a bit of a thief.

“I’d come home and steal toilet paper out of my house,” Rook said. “I would bring my backpack home and pretend to do homework in a quiet spot, but I’d actually steal toilet paper.”

When Rook didn’t rob the family toilet paper stash, she found a new appreciation for the food in her house.

“She stood at (our) pantry and said, ‘There’s so much food,’” said Mary Rook, her mother.

From Goldfish crackers to pretzels and ice cream, MacKenzie Rook couldn’t help but look at her parents’ kitchen in awe.

“(Seeing) all the food I didn’t pay for was so beautiful,” she said.

Through her first three years of college, MacKenzie Rook found a new appreciation for everyday necessities. She’s not the only one to experience a shift in monetary mindset.

If given several thousand dollars a year ago, Joe Helmer would have bought a new car. An MU sophomore mathematics major, Helmer would prefer to invest that money because of his new fears.

“I’m afraid of running out of money,” Helmer said. “(I’m also afraid of) not being able to buy food and not being able to afford the rest of my education.”

Establishing Missouri residency is one way some MU students can afford their education. Through the program, out-of-state students pay about $25,500 per year, according to MU.

It comes with more sacrifice for out-of-state students.

They are required to stay in Missouri for all but 14 days from the end of the spring semester to the beginning of the fall semester, according to MU residency requirements. Out-of-state costs are about $40,000 per year.

Forced to stay in Missouri to get in-state tuition, Minnesota native Micah Schiff questions whether it is worth it.

“It’s really hard to stay away,” Schiff said. “Staying here for the summer, I didn’t get to see my friends back home.”

Sacrifice is a common theme among college students, but it is also prevalent for their parents.

Mary Rook and her husband, Terry, moved to a smaller house when their two children went off to college. The Rooks have four cars, each more than 10 years old and with more than 100,000 miles.

Traveling is also less frequent for the Rooks, who typically take at most one family trip a year.

Despite the changes that come with having two children in college, Mary Rook appreciates what she has.

“We do have four cars, we do run the air conditioner and we do have heat,” she said.

Although Mackenzie Rook moved in to her parents’ home during college, Cici Jones will move in with her parents once she graduates next year because it eliminates her need to worry about bills.

Before she went to college, Jones never thought she would move back home, but she realizes it is her best option.

“I definitely never wanted to go back to live with my parents, but I know it would be the most cost efficient,” she said.

Similar to the experience of reducing her electrical bill, Jones realizes that she will need a new approach when handling her money — she won’t get to do what she wants; she will do what she has to.

“The cost of college in general has changed everything,” Jones said.

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AVID program helps prepare Columbia students for college

Brittany Brown, 16, at Woodridge park Thursday, July 16, 2015. Brown, a senior at Battle High school, is in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. EMILY ADAMS/Missourian

Brittany Brown, 16, at Woodridge park Thursday, July 16, 2015. Brown, a senior at Battle High school, is in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. EMILY ADAMS/Missourian

Story written by Emily Adams.

COLUMBIA — With fall approaching — and with it, the dreaded college application season — Brittany Brown is surprisingly stress-free.

Brown, a senior at Battle High School in Columbia, credits her peaceful attitude to the Advancement Via Individual Determination program at her school.

Introduced in Columbia two years ago, the AVID program is meant to help motivated students prepare for college. Participants learn studying techniques, critical thinking, time management and self-assessment skills. Students enroll in advanced placement classes and receive help applying for colleges and scholarships.

Nationally, AVID programs serve a large percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds – 74 percent of participants qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches – but the program is open to anyone.

“A lot of people think AVID is designed strictly for low-income,” said Rachel Bennett, Battle High assistant principal and director of the AVID program there.

She said enrollment in AVID mirrors the larger student population at Battle, where about half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“To have a successful AVID program, it has to match the demographics of the school,” Bennett said. “You have to have kids who will be team players and really want it. They have to be a good fit for the program to be successful.”

In the most recent selection process, 207 students completed applications to join the program, she said. Of those, 162 were selected after written and oral interviews.

Brown, who survived the screening process for a second year, recommends that students apply again even if initially denied.

“AVID helps in a million ways” she said. “It prepared me for college, especially the part where you take AP classes … I used to fall asleep in those classes all the time.”

Brown said that, before joining AVID she focused more on her social life than studying.

“I had a 2.6 GPA freshmen year and it skyrocketed to a 3.2 after AVID,” she said. Brown’s grade point average now is high enough to be accepted by her No. 1 school, University of Tampa.

AVID also has helped Brown prepare for the cost of college, which she is paying for by working at Aeropostale. Brown said her mother is a single parent, and while the family’s income is high enough that she doesn’t qualify for free lunch, Brown expects to pay for college on her own. She hopes to find scholarships through AVID to help.

“I think everyone in my family has had a full-time job while in high school,” Brown said. “I’m working for it.”

Bennett said the program can help self-determined students of any socioeconomic status pay for an education.

“Most parents can’t afford to write a check for an $80,000 bachelor’s degree somewhere,” she said. “AVID works for these kids, to get them into college and find scholarships.”

Brown, who wants to study nursing and work with humanitarian agencies in Africa, said AVID helped her realize her own potential.

“I really do like challenges,” she said. “I think I would have found a way to persevere, one way or another.”

Nonprofit organization combats poverty with financial education

Story written by Samantha Nelson.

COLUMBIA – Over the years working at Central Missouri Community Action, Teri Roberts has seen many people walk in who are about to be phased off public assistance or who don’t have a good sense about how to manage their money.

“These people have already experienced what bad credit does for them, but they don’t realize how different their life can be with good credit,” Roberts said.

Roberts said she believes that a solid financial education can help combat symptoms of poverty. The classes she provides at Central Missouri Community Action range from budgeting to credit to home ownership, and each has benefits that can ease some of the effects of having a significant amount of debt while in poverty. These are separate classes, not just topics in a course.

Financial experts say it can seem as if there is no way out when people face a mountain of debt.

“They can’t make ends meet, and they end up at our agency needing to take advantage of services,” Roberts said. “So the more we can teach them how to budget the money they do have coming in and set goals and choose priorities as to where that money goes, the better they will be at taking care of themselves.”

The majority of clients Roberts and her agency serve are in poverty, and some who attend Roberts’ classes have bad credit, and large amounts of debt from payday loan companies. Loans from payday lenders and finance companies carry high annual percentage rates — as much as 391 percent — according to the Federal Trade Commission. Roberts acknowledged that these types of loans are often harmful to those without the means to pay them back on time.

“It becomes a vicious cycle,” Roberts said. “They take out the first one, they can’t make the payment, or they can’t pay it off, so they take out the second one to make the payment on the first.”

These types of loans can even lead to criminal charges against unsuspecting borrowers, who date their checks in advance but might not have enough funds in the bank when a lender comes to collect.

Almost everyone has an income, so almost everyone can have some form of debt. According to Debt.org, people with higher incomes typically can take on higher amounts of debt because they have the means to pay it off. Those with lower incomes have a harder time taking on large amounts of debt because with limited income comes limited options on how to spend money.

“The more debt someone has, the more income they’re spending on debt,” said Marco Pantoja, director of MU’s Office of Financial Success.

While higher income families might not worry about how much is spent paying off debts each month, those with lower incomes have to take extra care to monitor just how much debt they have.

For those with incomes that fluctuate, the amount of debt held can be expected to fluctuate as well, according to Debt.org.

“Year to year, you get unexpected income shocks,” Joseph Haslag, an MU economics professor, said. “For farmers, sometimes crops are better and sometimes they’re worse.”

Haslag explained that the quality of crops are directly related to a farmer’s income. When yields are higher, the farmer can afford to pay off more debts and save money. When yields are lower, debt can increase because the farmer needs money to cover all of his expenses.

The relationship between debt and income level goes further than being able to pay off debts. Haslag said that income also affects the amount of money lenders will allow people to borrow. Those with a higher income typically show that they have the means to pay off loans of higher amounts.

For Roberts, a coordinator at Central Missouri Community Action, helping people to better themselves is the aspect she loves most about her job, and sometimes those people come back to her in better financial shape.

“We even have an employee now in our agency who came from one of my classes,” Roberts said. “When I did the class with her, she was living with her parents; she had no driver’s license; she had no vehicle; and she was not in very good shape financially — no job. She landed a full-time job with us, has now gotten her driver’s license back, she’s purchased a vehicle and she’s now getting ready to move out on her own.”

Roberts said she is inspired every day by the hard work and dedication shown by her clients who want to improve their lives and financial situations.

“It’s not work when you do something that you love,” Roberts said. “ At the end of the day, I love knowing that I helped someone.”

BREAKOUT BOX:

If you need financial education, please contact Central Missouri Community Action at (573) 777-5276 or the Family Impact Center at (573) 882-2428.

NOTE: The woman mentioned in the second-to-last quote is featured in Maddie Jarrard’s story about Mary Taylor.

Reality of college costs sinks in for MU students

Story by Samantha Nelson.

COLUMBIA — Tim Albers was planning to walk onto the Gonzaga baseball team when, during the winter of his senior year of high school, a third knee surgery “screwed up that plan.”

His parents allowed him to consider enrolling in any college, and while on vacation, his family stopped in Columbia. He knew MU had a top journalism school and he “fell in love with everything that was there.”

Albers was coming from Colorado, so he was going to have to pay the university’s out-of-state tuition, which is significantly higher than in-state tuition.

“I wasn’t given any of the scholarships I applied for,” Albers said. “My parents made too much money before taxes, but they didn’t make enough to pay for college entirely.”

The gross cost of many colleges seem difficult enough for middle- and upper-income families, but for lower-income students, paying for a higher education can seem almost out of reach, according to studies done by the College Board and by the Brookings Institute, a Washington D.C.-based research organization and think tank.

Students from lower-income families apply to college in smaller numbers than their more wealthy counterparts, and when they do apply, they apply to colleges that are less selective as a whole, the studies showed. 

The College Board divided family income into five levels – called quintiles – and used U.S. Census data to determine how many high school graduates enrolled in college from each quintile. Only 52 percent of students from the lower quintile enrolled in college compared to 82 percent from the upper quintile.

According to the New York Times, this college enrollment gap can contribute to the income gap among Americans. College graduates make significantly more money in their lifetime than those who did not graduate from college.

According to the Brookings Institute study, low-income students who are academically high achieving rarely apply to selective colleges. The study suggests that many low-income students simply aren’t aware of the available opportunities.

A similar study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that these high achieving students are put off by “sticker shock” when they learn of the cost to attend a university.

However, most of these lower-income students could qualify for a substantial reduction in tuition that would allow them to afford a more selective college, according to the bureau’s study. Unfortunately, those students don’t know about the tuition reductions and apply to two-year colleges or less selective four-year universities.

The four universities in the UM System give significantly more institutional merit-based aid than need-based aid.

MU, for example, provided $13 million in need-based aid and $39 million in merit-based support in the 2013-14 school year. This disparity exists in public universities across the country, according to Missourian reporting.

Albers, who is a junior studying business at MU, said he relies on student loans to help pay the cost of his out-of-state tuition.

“Students who really work hard should have every opportunity to get their school paid for,” Albers said. “Everyone should have the chance to not graduate $100,000 in debt.”

Student loans still a stressor after graduation

Tyler Adkisson prepares for a broadcast at KBIA Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Adkisson is working as a reporter at the public radio station as part of his classwork at the Missouri School of Journalism. ERIN SASTRE/Missourian

Tyler Adkisson prepares for a broadcast Wednesday at KBIA . Adkisson is working as a reporter at the public radio station as part of his classwork at the Missouri School of Journalism. ERIN SASTRE/Missourian

Story by Erin Sastre.

COLUMBIA – As an MU student in the 1990s, Brian Adams did whatever he could to offset the cost of his tuition.

“I counted corn for the USDA and helped teach labs and grade for the Agriculture Mechanization department,” Adams said. Still, by graduation his student loans totaled about $30,000.

Paying off those loans over the course of the next 15 years might have felt like counting kernels of corn, but Adams considers himself lucky compared to today’s graduates.

“It’s a shame, the financial burden on current students,” he said.

Higher tuition means many students are borrowing more than ever to pay for their educations.

The total cost of in-state tuition and fees for MU undergraduate students increased from $7,308 per year in 2006 to $8,989 in 2011, the most recent year for which data was available, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. For out-of-state students, the total annual cost increased from $16,890 to $21,784.

Interest rates for student loans also have increased. The rate for the 2014-15 school year was 4.66 percent, up 0.8 percentage points, according to the Federal Student Aid Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

Marco Pantoja, director of MU’s Office of Financial Success, said the average MU graduate last year had about $23,000 in student loans.

Tyler Adkisson(cq) edits for a broadcast at KBIA Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Adkisson is working as a reporter at the public radio station as part of his classwork at the Missouri School of Journalism. ERIN SASTRE/Missourian

Tyler Adkisson edits for a broadcast Wednesday at KBIA . Adkisson is working as a reporter at the public radio station as part of his classwork at the Missouri School of Journalism. ERIN SASTRE/Missourian

Tyler Adkisson, who graduates in August with a degree in convergence journalism, has more than double that amount.

“I’m going to pay for half it,” Adkisson said. “I’ll have to pay $27,000 and my parents will pay $27,000. At the end of the day, you have to be an adult and pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

To prepare for repayment, Adkisson started taking jobs during the academic school year to start saving. He worked as a recreation center lifeguard and as a writer for the video news source, Newsy.

“I worked 40 hours a week on top of my education,” Adkisson said. “Some days I had to ask myself, ‘Do I have time to eat or do I have time to do homework?’ I drove myself crazy and felt challenged about time.”

Federal law requires all student loan recipients to complete financial aid counseling before graduating, but the exit interviews, which can be completed online, don’t provide as much information as some students want.

Responding to student requests, MU launched a program in 2013 offering more detailed information and one-on-one counseling for students who wished to take part.

“I just got back from a conference and the financial stress is a huge issue in retention and keeping students in school,” said Pantoja. “We provide exit counseling for graduates to help them learn how to pay off their loans.”

Graduates can benefit from other assistance, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The program, created in 2007 and expanded significantly since then, eliminates any remaining loan balance after a borrower makes 120 consecutive loan payments while working a qualifying public interest job.

Despite the resources available, many graduates are still unsure of how to get a jump on their payments.

“I don’t even know how I’m going to pay for student loans,” said Alexander Ralph, who graduated MU this year owing about $50,000. “The majority of my education was funded through loans. Only about 15 percent was out of pocket.”

Ralph did share some advice for students concerned with loans during their early college years, though.

“I feel a lot of students stress their freshman and sophomore years about student loans,” he said. “Start saving. You can never save enough money for college.”

Sports funding offers youths avenue to pursue sports

Atiyyah Ellison at the Booneville High School football field Thursday, July 15, 2015. Ellison, who played football for Missouri and the Carolina Panthers, is holding a sports skills camp at the high school this weekend. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian.

Atiyyah Ellison stands over the Boonville High School football field Thursday. Ellison, who played football for Missouri and the Carolina Panthers, is holding a sports skills camp at the high school this weekend. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian.

Story by Aaron Carter.

COLUMBIA — Think of an NFL player. If the thought of lavish lifestyle comes to mind, think again.

“I still drive the same truck I bought when I was a rookie,” Atiyyah Ellison said with a slight chuckle. “That was the second purchase I made, behind my wife’s wedding ring.”

Ellison, a former lineman at Missouri drafted into the NFL, is now a defensive line coach at Battle High School. Ellison also reached out to Columbia and surrounding areas by holding a “Play with the Pros” all-sports camp in Boonville July 18 to19.

From a young age, Ellison developed the motivation to work hard.

“My mom always pushed community service and volunteering for the greater good,” Ellison said. “I grew up knowing the importance of hard work.”

Atiyyah Ellison at the Booneville High School football field Thursday, July 15, 2015. Ellison, who played football for Missouri and the Carolina Panthers, is holding a sports skills camp at the high school this weekend. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian.

Atiyyah Ellison, who played football for Missouri and the Carolina Panthers, is holding a sports skills camp at the high school this weekend. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian.

Knowing he had to put in work to get results created a humble environment for Ellison.

“I never knew we were in poverty when I was a kid. Not having much made me more level-headed,” he said.

The qualities that Ellison learned at a younger age translate to Ellison’s continued community service as an adult.

The NFL provides a grant for former players who donate toward nonprofit organizations by matching the donations. This grant covers the cost of equipment, camp shirts and other intricacies. This allowed Ellison to start a camp that is free to all athletes six to 12 years old.

The grant reminded Ellison of the type of opportunities he was given as a young player.

“I didn’t really have anything to worry about anything monetarily, really,” Ellison said. “Things like bed sheets and toiletries, things you would never think about spending money on, are provided for you.”

Programs are now trying to help these kids before they get to college.

Non-NFL programs and grants do exist for youth athletes. Erika Coffman, Recreation services manager at the Columbia Parks and Recreation office, stresses the importance of parents’ roles in this issue. Coffman spoke about parents volunteering their time to run concessions or running bingo nights, which are regular at the Cosmo Club, produced by Sporting Columbia.

“As long as the organization is funded, the cost will stay down,” Coffman said.

Susan Richison, along with Ellison, has a connection with Boonville and football. Richison is the head of the Youth Football Program in Boonville. The financial aspect of the program is something that Richison tries to alleviate so every child can have a chance to participate.

“If there’s a child that can’t play because of funding issues, we try to find a way to work around it,” Richison said.

Even though some athletes might not be as financially supported to do everything they desire, all differences between students disappear once they are in the program.

“There’s always been a disparity within the school cliques,” Richison said. “But once they get on the field, they come together.”

This merging of athletes creates a stronger culture as a team, similar to a family unit. With the blending of personalities also comes learning. Just like in school, there is lots of room to learn in athletics.

“(Sports) break down some barriers,” Richison said. “Sports teach [the athletes] teamwork and responsibility that enables them to look past those boundaries.”

Phil Rumbaoa, team physician for Boonville High School and youth football coach, played football as a walk-on at UCLA and has been working as a doctor at the vein clinic in Columbia. He has also coached wrestling.

“The experience of being a walk-on gave me the perseverance that it takes to make it through something like med school,” Rumbaoa said.

In youth sports, Rumbaoa wants his players to chase their dreams, but he also wants to make sure he keeps his players level-headed.

“The chances of making it to the pros are so slim, and I tell the kids that,” Rumbaoa said, “[I want them to be able to] develop themselves to the best of their ability and then maybe they can reach their goals.”

Part of keeping the kids level-headed is by stressing the importance of academics and also using people skills. The main people skill is teamwork, especially in athletics, Rumbaoa said.

“(I tell the kids) you need your teammates, whether you like it or not.” Rumbaoa said. “The team depends on you, as an individual, to get as skilled as you can, and you depend on the team to work together.”

A coach instilling these tools in an athlete at a young age will hopefully motivate them to play in college.

“Having that (playing a D1 sport) on my resume was a huge advantage,” Rumbaoa said, “And because of that, I think I carry more weight and am listened to more, not because I am a doctor, but because I played a sport in college.”

Rumbaoa believes funding should definitely be available for all athletes, and he wants to encourage them to play college athletics and to use their athletic abilities to try to pay for college.

Justin Hahn, who has coached youth football for nine years and worked a few years with wrestling and baseball, believes that funding is not as much of an issue in certain sports as it is in others.

“I don’t think the funding issues affect football as much as other sports, like baseball.” Hahn said. “In Columbia, there’s a (football) team full of lower income families, and they are able to do that through fundraisers.”

There is also an innate skill component to football that sports like baseball and wrestling don’t possess.

“There’s no specialized training in football like there is in baseball,” Hahn said. “You don’t need to practice as much for football at a young age. Most of football is running and catching, things that kids are born with.”

Even though cost may be less of an obstacle, other resources like transportation could be scarce.

“Last year I had two kids that I had to pick up for every practice.” Hahn said, “We got closer together, and developed a friendship.”

The idea of sports bringing people closer together isn’t necessarily limited to only player to player relationship, but in Hahn’s situation – coach to player.

JD Coffman, athletics director at Hickman High School, has coached for 25 years. Throughout his time at Hickman, he always coached at least one sport, but up to three at a time at some points. Coaching runs in his blood.

“My father was a high school coach and athletic director,” Coffman said. “Watching my father coach, watching his patience and seeing the relationships he builds with the athletes helped shape the type of coach I am.”

Hickman and the other public schools in the Columbia area do not require a start-up fee for athletes to enroll in programs with the school. Since there is no direct financial connection to start, it’s more focused on effort from the athletes.

“It comes down to the kids coming out and trying,” Coffman said.

However, Coffman believes there is an advantage for some students.

“People that have the financial resources and give their kids those experiences have an advantage of these who don’t have those resources,” Coffman said. “Even though there may be an experience advantage, the kids’ determination, effort and goals aren’t determined by the money that you have.”