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Survey Finds Economy Shaping Choices in Higher Ed.

Despite the glum economy, business officers at colleges are fairly optimistic about the financial health of their institutions and anticipate little change in the overall way they operate. Yet, families are concerned about the rising cost of higher education and are making adjustments to cope.

These were the messages in two recent surveys looking into attitudes toward college costs.

A new national study, How America Pays for College, from Sallie Mae and Ipsos Public Affairs, found 69 percent of families eliminated college choices because of costs, the highest level in the five years since the study began. To save money, 51 percent of students lived at home, 50 percent added a roommate, 29 percent attended a community college, and 50 percent of parents and 66 percent of students reduced their spending.

As tuition rises, the burden is shifting more to students. Between savings, jobs, and loans, students paid 30 percent of the total cost of college last year compared to 24 percent four years ago while parents picked up 37 percent of the expenses, down from 45 percent.

Although increasingly expensive, 70 percent of students and parents strongly agreed that college is needed now more than ever and 61 percent of students were willing to stretch themselves financially to pay for higher education, according to the Sallie May survey.

Another survey by Inside Higher Ed, released Friday, finds a surprisingly rosy outlook of their college's business model by senior financial officers at a time when many are calling for major reform in higher education funding.

About 17 percent of business officers surveyed said their college was in "excellent" financial health and half said their institutions were in a "good" position. Just one-third gave their institution's financial health a "C" or "D" grade, and no one considered they were failing.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said increasing net tuition revenue (the amount they get for each student after institutional financial aid) was the most important strategy for raising revenue in the short term. Other strategies included online instruction, collaboration with other campuses, streamlining operations, and eliminating underperforming programs, according to the responses from campus and system chief business and financial officers.

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