SOU students weigh impact of downswing

Just like investors on Wall Street, students who are investing in their college educations became increasingly worried this week as the stock market see-sawed and the economy showed signs of recession.

"We're already in one (a recession), truthfully, and I don't think the infrastructure's really there to shoulder the economic hardship," said Onn Hassanzadeh, a senior at Southern Oregon University. "So far school hasn't started yet, so it's not a major problem, but I bet there's somewhat of an economic hindrance on the horizon for a lot of students."

Holly Edwards, a junior at SOU who was hanging out with Hassanzadeh and other friends at the Starbucks next to the university Thursday night, said her family has felt the effects of the economic downturn.

"It's made being able to go home and see family much more difficult because of gas prices and everything. I've definitely been budgeting," she said.

Edward's family has had to cut back on the amount of money spent on her education this year, she said.

"My parents have been having issues with that. I've started having to pay my own rent," she said.

The 20-year-old works as a waitress downtown in addition to attending school full-time. She said she feels lucky to have found a job, although it took her about a month.

Now that the tourism season is winding down, jobs for students are fewer, Edwards said. Affordable housing is also difficult to find this time of year, she added.

"I think it's always hard toward the end of summer. Any housing that is available to college students dwindles," said Edwards.

Laura O'Bryon, SOU dean of students, said there are many jobs on campus for students who have financial need, and the campus career center also helps connect students to employers in the community.

"I think right now across the nation there are challenges of unemployment, but it seems to me, in this community there's a lot of support for students," she said.

"I would encourage students who are having difficulties to follow up with the Office of Student Affairs to help them hook them up with resources be able to continue with their studies," O'Bryon said.

Students are eligible for a new $2,000 federal loan this year, but the loan is unsubsidized, so it begins accruing interest immediately, while the student is still in school. This creates the possibility that students will be deeper in debt when they graduate than in previous years, said Diana Watson-Paul, associate director of financial aid at SOU.

"If a freshman takes that $2,000 and then takes it again, all four years, that's $8,000. So the potential is there for these students who are taking that unsubsidized loan to end up with more debt than their predecessors did," she said.

Watson-Paul said quite a few students have opted to take the loan this year, although she did not know exactly how many.

On the upside, a state grant for students with financial need has been increased to $3,200 this year, doubling the amount available last year, she said.

"I'm sure the economy's affecting some of our students, but we are in the fortunate position of having some of our students take advantage of grants. I'm not seeing a lot of panic among our students," said Watson-Paul.

The economic downturn suggests that enrollment may increase in coming semesters, as the job market becomes more competitive, she added.

Hassanzadeh said most of his colleagues see a college degree as an economic necessity.

"I think that when the economy does take a nosedive, that's one of those things that happens inversely," said Hassanzadeh.

"If you want to make any money, you pretty much have to have a bachelors," Edwards added.

For many SOU students, though, the economic downturn has yet to hit home, said senior Ryan West, who was hanging out with Hassanzadeh and Edwards.

"People are kind of going on like it's not really affecting them yet, and historically that's exactly what was happening before the Great Depression. It hasn't really sunk in yet," West said.

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