Analysis: Economy Puts Colleges’ Ambitions on Hold

For many colleges, the last 15 years have been a golden age. Philanthropy and Americans’ grudging tolerance for high tuition fueled an unprecedented boom — investments in everything from gyms, dorms and labs to faculty and expanded financial aid.

Now, suddenly and like the rest of us, many colleges are faced with toning down their ambitions, at least in the short term.

The financial meltdown is forcing institutions to tear up budget plans and prepare for a simultaneous hit to their three major revenue sources — government funding, donations and tuition. At the same time, they’re having to find more money for one of their major budget items — financial aid — or risk seeing students drop out.

"They’re coming in and saying, ‘I need a little more help,"’ said Jerry Cebrzynski, financial aid director at Lake Forest College outside Chicago, which cut several class offerings and froze last year’s operating budget in part to make more aid available. "I think we’re seeing just the tip of iceberg."

Cebrzynski recently managed to find another $5,000 for one family where the father lost his job and the mother has cancer. (Associated Press)

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