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Economy eating into graduates' plans
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Jennifer Barksdale will graduate from Bradwell Institute in two weeks and the slumping economy is getting her to rethink college plans.
"I was going to attend Armstrong in Savannah and live at home, but the gas prices prevent this from being a realistic goal," Barksdale explained.
She hopes she can avoid student loans. With plans of using scholarships to cover college expenses, she said she will only consider a student loan if it becomes "absolutely necessary."
Torri Jackson, BI's 12th grade guidance counselor, said approximately 65 percent of students who graduate go directly to college and loans are usually the last resort for paying for it.
"It's normally taboo," Jackson said. "They don't ask about it a lot."
Chelsea DeLeon, also a BI senior, plans to attend the University of Georgia in the fall and also factored in how gas prices will affect her when she comes home during the holidays.
She said she has enough stocked in scholarships to cover college costs.   
"I would like to avoid pulling loans throughout college," she said. "Coming out of college in debt won't be a very positive situation to be in after graduation."
Justin Leachman, also a soon-to-be graduate, agreed.
"Students should be cautious about loans though because many students have so much debt when they graduate college that they cannot afford to start paying them off," he said.
According to 12th grader Marsha Backes, only those "disciplined with his or her finances," should consider a loan.
"Student loans are good as long as students only spend what they can afford to pay back," she said.
Most seniors seek out free money through scholarships and grants, where award is based on merit, such as scholastic achievement or community involvement.
"They are really into the scholarship search and a lot of it is online," Jackson said of the students she advises. "Things have changed. There are so many different types of scholarships that are out there."
Topping the list for scholarships is the state's signature HOPE scholarship, giving students who graduate with a cumulative B average a choice of 35 public colleges or universities without having to worry about tuition and fees.
But how the grade point average is calculated and who determines eligibility has changed.
Effective May 2007, individual high schools no longer determined GPA eligibility, the responsibility is now the Georgia Student Finance Commission. All attempted courses are now also calculated, instead of just the highest grades.
Students used to be able to retake courses for a better grade to boost GPA.
"I see students really trying hard," Jackson said. "Especially because they know that there's not an option of going in the summer and retaking it, to get a higher grade."
She explained last year's recent HOPE policy change has shown in the number of qualifying students.
Bradwell's class of 2007 had 30 percent of students meet the HOPE requirements. That qualifying number has dropped to 20 percent this year, according to Jackson.
She said more may have a chance of qualifying after the final list is released by the state finance commission in June.
"Obtaining and maintaining HOPE funds is more challenging than it has been in the past, due to the changes in eligibility criteria," she said.
The nationally acclaimed HOPE scholarship has helped over a million students attend a Georgia college or university.
Tuition costs at Georgia's public colleges and universities are among the nation's lowest.

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