University students feel effects of economic downturn

By now, university students have covered most of their yearly costs including tuition, books and some housing. But for some of them, the country's economic crisis has jumped the walls of the academy to challenge their efforts toward a degree. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez visited a Southland campus to hear from students.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The automatic teller machines at UC Irvine's student center are very busy. The transactions remind students just how shaky the economy is.

Fourth-year criminology major Mike Wendel says his parents have paid for most of his college education. But not long ago they warned him that the stock market's sunk some of his college savings. That's led him to work longer hours at his campus job – and to dismiss the idea of graduate school.

Mike Wendel: I'd rather not take out a bunch of loans given the economic situation right now. I kind of want to get out there and work as soon as possible.

Guzman-Lopez: Wendel says he still wants to pursue a job in federal law enforcement. He maintains that public sector jobs are more secure than others when the economy falters. First-year computer engineering major Arvind Prabhakar is considering a part-time job on campus.

Arvind Prabhakar: My father's been laid off. So paying for this college is really, really hard.

Guzman-Lopez: Prabhakar's father broke the news just before his first day of classes at UC Irvine last month. Financial aid covers a small portion of his college costs. He says he qualifies for more, but he can't apply again until later this year. Prabhakar says his father has discouraged him from getting a job, because he'd rather have his son lose sleep over his studies than his bank account.

Prabhakar: He still has a lot in his savings account to help us out, so we're still fin,e but if I need to go back to school next year, then, you know, before that he definitely, definitely needs to find a job again.

Guzman-Lopez: Other Irvine students reported no worries about money. Some said their parents are wealthy enough to weather the economic crisis. Others said financial aid's covering most of their college costs for the year.

But some students are so fretful about the economy that a few have sought advice from psychologists at UC Irvine's counseling center. On the first day of school, Assistant Director Braddie Dooley says, one walked in and said she'd decided to leave school to find a job and help her parents make ends meet.

Braddie Dooley: Another student came in whose father had lost his job recently, and unknown to her, he took out a credit card in her name, and, but then was not making payments.

Guzman-Lopez: Dooley says that for every student who seeks help, there are many others who don't. University officials say anxiety over relationships and career paths remain the top sources of student stress. But counselors say they're expecting that more students will want to talk about money problems.

Thomas Parham, UC Irvine's head of counseling and health services, and a psychologist by training, says a crisis like this undermines the predictability students have been used to all their lives.

Thomas Parham: And they're used to looking at their parents, and looking in their parents' eyes, and looking for a level of assuredness and security that says, yes, it's gonna to be OK, yes, we got it covered, yes, things are going to be all right.

Guzman-Lopez: When that dissolves, he says, optimism can go a long way toward helping a young person cope.

Parham: Most of us are still very, very blessed in our lives. And there are more good things that happen to us, than are bad things that happen to us.

Guzman-Lopez: Parham suggests it's more sensible to focus on that steady, big-picture perspective than on the daily ups and downs of the financial markets.