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Syracuse Students Contemplate Dropping Out As Tuition Rises

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Kenna Fudge had always dreamed of going to college. But now that she's there, she sits up late at night in her dorm room before falling asleep so she'll be too exhausted to have nightmares. They started after her dad drowned in a kayaking accident in July 2009, the summer before she began college at Syracuse University. The emotional stress from his death took its toll on her grades last semester, and now she's in jeopardy of losing her scholarships and dropping out of school.

For now, Fudge still has her education. But next year, she will need more financial aid from Syracuse, or she'll have to drop out. To make matters worse, Syracuse announced plans last Wednesday to raise tuition by four percent, board costs by four percent and room costs by 3.5 percent. That means that, if all other costs stay the same, the price of a year at Syracuse will reach $49,825, a hike of more than $1,800.

Fudge is now on her own to pay the $9,000 a year not covered by scholarships. But it's not easy -- halfway through freshman year, her mom lost her job when the Sears near her family's hometown of Derry, N.H. closed this January.

Of all the choices she's made, Fudge struggled most with the idea of selling her dad's car, a black Corvette with red leather seats, to help pay for school. "He'd always dreamed of having that car," said Fudge, a 19-year-old freshman who hopes to research autism cures. "It's kind of like selling a part of my dad. And it's hard to get rid of the only things you have left."

The protests surrounding tuition at Syracuse have been muted. A group of about 20 members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a liberal activist organization, staged a sit-in at the Bird Library on campus -- with permission from librarians, who occasionally came by to make sure they were following the library's rule to keep quiet. The students collected signatures for a petition that demanded a pay cap for top administrators and a tuition freeze. The majority of students walking through the library either didn't notice or didn't care, however, and walked by without a word.

As the tuition crisis demands more and more from those who have less and less, selling a deceased parent's belongings is just one of the choices that students face as they pursue the dream of higher education. Dropping out of school. A leave of absence. Graduating early. Full-time side jobs. Six-digit loans. It adds up to a college experience that, for many students, is taking more than it gives.

Many who do live the dream can wake up with a nasty hangover: loan repayment.

Rachael Datello, a third-year senior at Syracuse, is paying for college herself -- or, more precisely, she'll start paying for college six months after she graduates in May, a year early. A $99,000 loan repayment looms down the road, on a collision course with her departure for Los Angeles and, hopefully, a film career.

Solution: public university? Not so simple. The California public university system, for example, just instituted a 32% fee hike.

Dalan Dinh, of San Jose, Calif., opted for Syracuse University, which she dreamed of attending, over a state school. After her dad's real estate business stopped earning money, she reluctantly transferred to the University of California, Riverside. She's hoping tuition hikes there don't break the bank, too.

"Only go to a private school if you have the scholarships," Dinh said. "It's terrible that that's the way it is."

Her time at Syracuse left her with $30,000 in debt, which she's still paying off, and no diploma. Syracuse told her to take out $2,000 more in loans when she asked for help, she said.

Kevin Quinn, a university spokesman, said, "Our top priority is keeping tuition down and providing financial aid and making us as affordable as we can."

In announcing the tuition hike, Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor said that the university can't just rely on hiking tuition to make ends meet for the university. "It is not sustainable to continue to plan for substantial increases in net tuition revenue, especially in light of the new reality of what it means to ensure access to our college-going population," she said.

Fudge, the Syracuse freshman, would ask for more help, but she is afraid she could lose the money she already has because of her grades. She's working on bringing them up this semester, but her 30-hour-a-week side job often keeps her from studying.

"How can they expect students to keep going here if they keep raising the prices?" Fudge said. "You shouldn't have to be rolling in money to come to your dream school."

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