Counting the cost of college

The cost of everything is on the rise, but good budgeting can keep you in college

Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 00:00

The cost of college is a shock. Unless you are lucky enough to have wealthy and generous parents, you’ll have to learn to manage on a tight budget, and fast.

According to figures released last month by the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), the cost of going to college has risen to its highest level since 2008. A student living away from home can expect to spend a minimum of €10,980 per year, spread over nine months, on rent, bills, food, travel, books, clothes, mobile phone, social life, and a student contribution charge – a lot more if they’re paying rent in Dublin. DIT’s figures indicate that living at home is nearly €4,000 cheaper, with costs adding up, so expect to spend around €7,083 a year.

The cost of everything seems to be on the up. Around 18 per cent of students are in “serious financial difficulty”, according to a survey released last month by the Higher Education Authority. The cost of public transport has risen, and the price of energy now looks set to rise too.

The student registration charge is only heading upwards, leading this year to a 4.6 per cent increase in the cost of education, which follows on from a 4.5 per cent increase last year. Some students can’t afford to pay their fees and have to withdraw, despite their college allowing them to pay in instalments. Some colleges, notoriously, have called in the debt collectors on their students.

Meanwhile, the cost of rent is soaring, especially in Dublin. Ireland is in the throes of a student accommodation crisis. There is growing evidence of students commuting daily to Dublin from extremely long distances, says Laura Harmon, president of the Union of Students in Ireland. “There’s been a 13 per cent increase in rental costs for on-campus accommodation. There is already growing evidence of students commuting daily to Dublin over extremely long distances.

“If you’re fortunate enough to find somewhere to live, the likelihood is that it’s costing significantly more, at a time when student finances are already past breaking point. Some opt to spend multiple nights sleeping on couches or in hostels every week, others aren’t even able to attain that. There is now a real danger that this will start to impact on retention rates and it requires immediate attention from Government.”

Rent increases

Brian Gormley, manager of DIT Campus Life, urges students to book their accommodation as soon as possible. “The most significant issue this year is the increase in rents, particularly in Dublin, and the biggest cost is rent,” he says.

It’s nearly enough to drive students away from Dublin. Figures compiled by the Budgetary Advice Service at University College Cork put the annual costs of college for a student living away from home at between €8,100 and €9,000 per year, depending on accommodation.

Unfortunately, students are dropping out of college due to financial pressures, says Evan Healy, student budgetary advisor at UCC. “Some of them were not able to access funds due to delays in processing their grant applications, or they were not eligible for funding and couldn’t remain in college.”

If students fall into financial difficulty, what should they do? “Ask for help,” says Healy. “Colleges want the best for their students, but we can only help them if we know there is a problem. In my role as budgetary advisor, I am happy to help any student who may be struggling financially and needs advice in terms of accessing available funding and managing their money efficiently.”

Healy meets UCC students daily, providing one-on-one advice and guidance, including assisting them with funding such as student grants, scholarships and the Student Assistance Fund. His role includes liaising with and directing students towards student counselling and development, fees office, the students’ union, the Student Assistance Fund office, and specific support services including mature student offices, disability support services, international offices and graduate studies offices.

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