By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe

C AMBRIDGE - Jake Pinato, 18, almost couldn't afford
the $25,000- plus tuition at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, but a last- minute increase
in financial aid allowed the incoming freshman to
attend his first choice.

"I got very lucky," said Pinato, of Manhattan Beach,
Calif., as he waited in front of the student center
last week for an orientation tour to begin. "My Dad
was saying, `Even if you got accepted to MIT, I don't
think I could afford it.' "

His older sister wasn't so lucky, however, when the
family couldn't foot the bill for her top pick, the
University of Michigan. She's attending the University
of California, Santa Barbara, instead. "It's pretty
far from her first choice, all because it's the money.
It's kind of sad," said Pinato, who's considering a
major in computer science.

While college costs are already the highest they've
ever been, in 18 years they could average more than
$200,000 for four years at a private college and
$80,000 or more for public schools, according to
recent College Board data.

For families with newborns, that can be frightening.
Indeed, some surveys say American families are more
worried about affording a college education for their
children than they are about having enough for
retirement, according to the College Savings Plans
Network, an affiliate of the National Association of
State Treasurers.

"National polls on family finances have shown this as
being the number one concern across the country," said
Marshall Bennett, chairman of the savings plans
network and treasurer for the state of Mississippi.

To address this hot-button issue, Congress, the
Clinton administration, and presidential candidates Al
Gore and George W. Bush have all proposed fixes, and
43 states including Massachusetts have recently added
tax-favored college savings plans or prepaid tuition

Pending in Congress is legislation that would allow a
federal tax exemption for earnings on state college
savings plans. And legislation pending in
Massachusetts would give tax breaks for state college
savings plan earnings and contributions, according to
Treasurer Shannon P. O'Brien's office, which sponsored
the legislation.

Gore proposes a college tuition tax credit that would
save families with college students up to $2,800,
while Bush has said he would expand the Pell Grant
program to give an extra $1,000 to students who have
taken advanced-placement or college-level math and
science classes in high school.

Existing financial aid has reached a record $64.1
billion, according to the latest figures from the
nonprofit College Board. But it hasn't kept pace with
tuition increases.

Currently, four years of private college tuition,
fees, and room and board average from $80,000 to
$100,000, and from $30,000 to $45,000 at a public
college. A typical family now faces financial aid
loans of nearly $20,000 for each child's undergraduate
education, according to the College Board, an
association of more than 3,700 colleges and other
educational organizations.

In response to the growing concern, acknowledging that
traditional financial aid programs aren't enough, both
state and federal governments have recently come up
with new ways to help families save and pay for

For example, on the federal level, there are the Hope
and Lifetime Learning tax credits, and on the state
level, there are the prepaid tuition plans or
tax-deferred college savings plans.

"Families really have to be prepared for this and save
to the extent that they're able," said Scott Prince,
director of external relations for the Massachusetts
Educational Financing Authority, which provides
low-cost educational loans and administers the state's
prepaid tuition plan, known as the U.Plan, and college
savings plan, known as the U.Fund.

But for current college students and their families,
the bills are already coming due. In an effort to pay
them, they've had to take such steps as work 60- to
70-hour weeks, plead with schools for more financial
aid, or seek alternative sources of educational funds
on the Internet and elsewhere.

Moira Toscano, 54, of Boston, took to the Web in an
effort to pay for her son Gregory's junior year at
Northeastern University and her daughter Jennifer's
freshman year at Lasell College in Newton. Tuition for
both children totals about $34,000, and after
financial aid, the amount Toscano and her husband must
contribute is about $13,000 - more than they could
afford without remortgaging their house or taking out
another loan.

"It's really staggering. I'm not even talking about
Ivy League," said Toscano, the primary caretaker for
her husband, a retiree who suffered a stroke a few
years ago. "It's not like we didn't put money away for
their college. It was wiped out the first year."

Luckily, in July Toscano won $25,000 (or about $18,000
after taxes) through, a new
Waltham-based Web site that has daily, weekly, and
quarterly scholarship drawings for registered members.
So far, she's sent Gregory's tuition bill to
FreeScholarships to be paid directly to Northeastern.
The money can be used over a few years.

Since the site launched in February, it has awarded
scholarship money to nearly 200 registered members
from around the country. Founded by Chuck Digate,
chief executive of MathSoft Inc., FreeScholarships is
a privately held company funded by the software firm.
But it also seeks money from philanthropists and
others who want to "do something great for humanity by
providing a quality education for some promising
scholar," according to the Web site.

To pay their tuition at MIT, Jake Zucker, Kelli
Griffin, Cindy Adams, and others relaxing in front of
the MIT student center last week said they've resorted
to more traditional methods.

Zucker, 20, of Reno, Nev., a straight-A student with a
double major in math and biology, is paying the full
freight since his father's income as a pediatrician
and other family assets are too high to qualify him
for aid.

He worked 60 to 70 hours a week at two jobs this
summer to help pay the bills, but "that doesn't even
begin to scratch the surface of the costs," Zucker
said, as he hung out in front of the student center
with fellow varsity football team members Kevin
Ferguson, Bobby Owsley, and Kip Johann-Berkel.
Ferguson is on a Navy ROTC scholarship, while Owsley
and Johann-Berkel both qualified for financial aid.

"We're all paying too much in the grand scheme of
things," said Zucker, who's thinking of following in
his father's footsteps into medicine.

Kelli Griffin, 19, of Tiverton, R.I., a member of the
varsity soccer team who's majoring in material science
engineering, said she qualifies for financial aid and
is maxing out on student loans of several thousand
dollars a year. "I'll have a lot of loans to pay off,"
she said, as she iced down a flare-up of tendinitis
after team practice.

And as incoming freshmen and newfound friends Cindy
Adams, 18, of Pennsylvania, and Mana Shah, 17, of
Connecticut ate a late breakfast last week, they, too,
talked about paying for an MIT education. Adams
qualified for financial aid, including work-study and
loans, but Shah didn't because of her family's income
and assets.

"I really like MIT, but it's really a lot more
expensive," said Adams, who's thinking of majoring in
aerospace engineering and has dreamed of working for
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
since she was a child.

But Shah, who's thinking of majoring in biology and
doing medical research, said hopefully: "It pays off

- - The US Department of Education Web site
provides everything you'd ever want to know about
financing education. You can also get a copy of the
federal financial aid form and "The Student Guide" by
calling 1-800-4FEDAID, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m.
- - Part of the federal government's
Access America initiative, this site has links to
information about financial aid, community service,
career development, travel, and other topics of
interest to students.
- - The site for the College
Savings Plans Network, an affiliate of the National
Association of State Treasurers. Provides information
and links to state college savings plans, and features
a Pepsi $10,000 College Scholarship Giveaway.
- - The Massachusetts Educational
Financing Authority's site features information on
low-cost undergraduate and graduate loans, payment
calculators, online loan applications, and material on
the U.Plan for prepaid tuition and the U.Fund for
college savings.
- - The College Board site allows
students to compare financial aid awards, search for
scholarships, and apply online for financial aid
through the College Scholarship Service.
-, -
Registered members of these sites can qualify for
regularly scheduled scholarship give aways.
- - A new Web site by Sallie Mae,
which provides funds for educational loans. Features
information on everything from understanding various
student loans to different repayment plans.
- - Comprehensive site with information
about loans, scholarships, military aid, and other
sources of educational funding, created by college
planning author Mark Kantrowitz.
-,, - Free scholarship search sites.
- - Web site put up by
publicly traded company to provide news, shopping, and
financial aid and scholarship information.