Andrea Egge, North Medford High School graduating senior, shows her acceptance letter from Southern Oregon University to her mother, Janet Egge. Andrea is one of a growing number of grads staying close to home next fall because of the sagging economy. - Bob Pennell

Finding the silver lining

North Medford High School senior Andrea Egge had envisioned that graduation would mean packing up her zebra-print bedroom and going away to college to study nursing.

But the economy changed her plans. Her bookshelves and zebra-print bedspread will remain in place. The income from her father's job as a mortgage broker has plummeted to less than half since the recession began in 2007, said Egge's mother, Janet. The family doesn't have enough money to send Egge off to Western Oregon University in Monmouth, where she wanted to go, even with scholarships and federal loans.

Instead, Egge will live at home next year and attend Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

"I am really sad she can't do what she wanted to do as much as I love that she will be at home," her mother said. "I do think it's important that kids start being an adult, being independent and fulfilling their dreams. It saddens me Andrea isn't going to do that next year."

A record number of U.S. students — 3.1 million to 3.3 million — will graduate from high school this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These graduates face greater competition and higher tuition for admission into postsecondary schools, as well as family financial upheavals such as unemployment, layoffs, foreclosures and reduced income.

High school graduates' responses to the financial hardships have ranged from forgoing or delaying college to going to a college near home and living with their parents, high school counselors said.

"The trend I've noticed is kids are staying closer to home," said Rhonda Baumann, Rogue River High School academic adviser. "We have a lot of students who are going to RCC and SOU. We only have three going out of state out of about 70 students graduating this year. Three or four are going into the military, and that's a little bit higher than usual."

Arlene Louis, scholarship director at South Medford High School, said finances are one of the major concerns she hears when discussing students' plans after they graduate.

"Kids are really, really cognizant about not wanting a lot of debt, which I've never heard before from students," Louis said. "They've really been sitting down and working with their families, and I think it's because of these economic times."

Nationwide, college tuition has increased faster than families' incomes, according to a 2008 report by the College Board. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate continues to rise. It's about 13.9 percent in Jackson County.

Fortunately, more federal financial aid is offered to help offset the difference, according to counselors.

Just between 2007-08 and 2008-09, tuition increased an average of 6.4 percent at public four-year universities across the nation, according to the College Board. Nationwide, the average in-state cost of a four-year public university was $6,585, compared to $17,452 for out-of-state. The average cost of a private four-year college was $25,143, and a two-year public school was $2,402, the College Board stated.

"I wanted to go out of state for college," said Andrea Sukraw, a valedictorian at North Medford High School. "We moved here from Washington state two years ago because my dad was transferred, and because of the economy we can't sell our house in Washington. We are paying our mortgage and our rent here."

The expense of paying a mortgage in Washington and rent in Oregon means Sukraw won't be able to fulfill her dream of attending Seattle University. Instead, she's going to WOU, where she'll live in the dorms, study nursing and reap the savings of in-state tuition.

Most students like Egge and Sukraw who want to go to college are finding ways to do it, but there are a few exceptions, said Louis, who as scholarship director sees only students who have expressed a desire to go to college.

"I have had a couple of students who say they can't go to college because of finances," she said. "They said they are going to have to work."

But even jobs traditionally filled by students are either disappearing or being filled by people laid off from other professions, according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. That makes it more challenging both for high school graduates going into the work force and for college and high school students who seek to supplement their family's income or financial aid.

Courtney Horton, North Medford senior, said she's been looking for a job for a year. She said she's applied to about 20 jobs without results. If she doesn't find a job this summer, she might have to skip attending Portland State University, stay at home and attend SOU — even with two scholarships and federal loans.

Rogue Community College and SOU have seen their enrollments surge as people look for job training and a productive way to bide their time until the economy upswings, college officials said.

"We can say without a doubt that overall enrollment is skyrocketing," said Dan Buck, RCC recruitment coordinator. "We haven't broken out how many of those are local high school students. Anecdotally, it does seem more kids are staying at home and at least getting their start at RCC. There is a changing awareness about the benefits of going to community college even if the student wants to go on to a university. The stigma is no longer there."

Attending RCC will cost $73 per credit in tuition next year. SOU has not yet set tuition for 2009-10, said Mark Bottorff, SOU admissions director, but it has proposed a 7.5 percent increase to $125 per credit hour.

Andrea Egge expects to pay about $6,715 at SOU next year. She has earned three scholarships equaling $3,500 that will help her pay for school. The $3,200 difference of her annual tuition will be paid for with loans, she said. She also works part-time as a hostess at Red Robin in Medford, which will help offset the cost of textbooks and other expenses.

"The scholarships really were the turning point," her mother said. "We had talked about her going to RCC. When she got the scholarships, I said, 'You've got to go to SOU.' "

"We are just trying to budget wherever we can," she said. "It's been really, really hard."

But there can be advantages to downsizing one's college plans, Janet Egge said.

"The nursing programs are so competitive it will be a positive that she can focus on her studies and not have so many distractions like friends and parties," Janet Egge said. "We are blessed to have that (university) in the area."

Andrea Egge said she hopes she will be able to afford to continue her studies at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland possibly as early as the 2010-11 school year. In the meantime, she said she is grateful to avoid acquiring more debt this year and to spend another year with her family.

"At first, I was disappointed, but I can't really do anything about it," Andrea Egge said. "I'm excited about starting college and meeting new people."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

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