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Counting the cost of a college education

Keith Derrig and Aaron Ward from St Gerald’s College, pictured here after finishing their exams in June, will be two of the students picking up their results in Castlebar tomorrow. ?Pic: Alison Laredo
Keith Derrig and Aaron Ward from St Gerald’s College, pictured here after finishing their exams in June, will be two of the students picking up their results in Castlebar tomorrow. ?Pic: Alison Laredo

Counting the cost of a college education

With thousands of Mayo students expected to enter college in 2011, Anton McNulty takes a look at the real cost of studying away from home

While hundreds of students across the county wait with trepidation for their Leaving Cert results tomorrow, for many of their parents the next number of weeks will be about finding ways of getting their children through college.
A survey by the Dublin Institute of Technology revealed that the national cost of living for the 2011/2012 academic year was €7,691, while the average cost of rent outside of Dublin is €287 per month. Added to that the increase of the student contribution charge to €2,000 and the decrease in the maintenance grant by four per cent, the cost of going to college for a number of people will be a constant struggle.
With the number of part-time jobs also on the decrease many students are finding it difficult to budget their spending for the year with credit Unions and banks advertising education loans for students.
Alan Judge, the Student Union President at GMIT Castlebar explained that a recent study showed that students are now living on €55 per week and the biggest problem for many students is their inability to budget.
“For a lot of younger students it is all about ‘let’s go to college’ but when they go it is all new and they have to do things like pay bills which they have not done before. I was lucky because I was a mature student when I started but even then I did not realise how much it would cost me.
“The biggest problem for students is the ability to budget for the year. The traditional view of students is that they are on the tear but that does not happen. They don’t have the ability to budget long term and they run out of steam.
“I am in my third year as student union president and in the first year the biggest cause of suicide was relationship problems but in the last year suicides have been based around money. Year on year people are finding it more difficult and it is a shame.”

Maintenance Grants
Alan explained that the various student unions can provide support to students if they can show they have monetary problems and can avail of an emergency fund. A student who qualifies for a full maintenance grant will receive €4,370 - compared to €6,355 12 months previously - which are paid in installments over the academic year.
This year the qualifying distance between home and college for the payment of a non-adjacent grant has increased from 24 km to 45 km which Alan feels will force many students to attend institutions further away from home and results in increased travel costs.
Last year there was a backlog in grant applications with many Mayo students not receiving their money until after the New Year.  Mayo VEC according to Alan was one of the worst performing VEC’s in the country last year and were overwhelmed by the applications.
“The VEC in Mayo were overwhelmed by the applications but in fairness the recruitment embargo did not help. They could not get extra staff to put through the forms and retiring staff were not replaced. My advice would be to get the form in as soon as possible even before you are offered a place.”

Mature Students
The last number of years has seen an increase in the number of students going onto third level with many looking to ‘ride’ out the recession, while the number of mature students has also increased following the downturn in the economy with the hope of increasing their chances of gaining employment.
GMIT Castlebar has one of the highest number of mature students with up to two thirds of the students enrolled as mature while nationwide the number of mature students has increased by 13 per cent in the last two years.
Alan explained that many people who may have lost their job have very little options other than to go back to College and upskill their qualifications
“It puts financial pressure on individuals because if you are up against 50 people for one job and you don’t have that piece of paper you are immediately put to one side. It is essential to have it to get the leg up the ladder. Last year I had to deal with husbands and wives in the college and it was very difficult on them,” he said.
Mature students who are planning to study full-time may be eligible for a student grant, and if you do not qualify for a student grant and you are doing a full-time undergraduate course you may be eligible for free fees.
If you are getting an unemployment, one-parent family or disability payment the Back to Education Allowance allows you to study at second and third level without losing your benefits. However, if you are applying for an undergraduate course you are not eligible for a student grant or free fees if you have already completed an undergraduate course.