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Saturday, Feb 09 2013 04:00 PM

Students finding creative ways to pay for college

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield College student Karly Beachler during one of her morning classes on campus. Beachler is currently appealing to people for donations on the internet to help with college expenses.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Karly Beachler is trapped in the perennial middle class college student's Catch-22.

Her father, who works in sales for the refrigeration industry, earns too much for Beachler to qualify for financial aid. Yet he can't afford tuition, as he's been raising his daughter alone since an expensive divorce.

Beachler, 20, lives with her dad, is applying for scholarships, works two jobs (three if you count babysitting) and started out at Bakersfield College to minimize the cost of her first two years of school.

It's still not enough, so she's trying something a little different -- appealing for donations on the Internet.

"I want to go out and proactively work toward my goal," Beachler said.

Hitting up strangers for money online may sound bold, but Beachler isn't the only one using so-called "crowd funding" to raise tuition money. In fact, she's part of a growing trend of people finding all sorts of creative ways to pay for school.

In Chicago, a woman took pledges for a 13.1-mile half marathon along the city's lakefront so she could pay off student loans and eventually become a nun. The Catholic Church does not permit defaulting on debt in order to enter religious life.

A 13-year-old Santa Rosa eighth grader is selling homemade toffee candy bars he created and named the "College Bound Bar."

It's not surprising that students are resorting to such measures given the slow economy and the current state of public funding for education, said Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Funding for the Federal Pell Grant Program, which provides grants for low-income students, has been flat in recent years in spite of inflation and regular increases in the price of tuition at most schools.

"The maximum Pell grant for the 2011-12 school year was $5,550, but that's just not worth what it used to be," Cooper said.

The California State University system, which includes Cal State Bakersfield, costs $5,472 a year. The University of California system is $10,152 a year.

That's below the national average for public universities, but at private schools, the cost of a college education is much higher.

At public and private four-year schools nationwide, average annual tuition, room and board for full-time undergraduate students was $23,066 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That's up 32 percent from 10 years earlier.

The availability of private scholarships generally rises and falls with the economy. With much of the nation still out of work, there are fewer donors able to help, Cooper said.

So some are taking drastic measures.

Financial aid officials have mixed feelings about such efforts.

On the one hand, they certainly recognize the need.

"I think students are always concerned about getting money for school," said Chad Morris, associate director of financial aid at CSUB. "About 80 to 90 percent of our students are on some type of aid."

But generally, experts recommend more traditional efforts.

"There are a lot of scholarship opportunities out there that students aren't aware of," said Primavera Arvizu, BC's financial aid and extended opportunity programs and services director. "Your financial aid office can help you."

The first step, Arvizu said, is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form, available at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The school can direct you from there.

Beachler said she's done all that, and has sought private scholarships, too. But she'll need to do more to cross the finish line.

Her goal is to transfer from BC to either Cal State Northridge or UCLA. She wants to complete an undergraduate degree in philosophy before going on to law school.

Her parents' experience with a difficult divorce inspired an interest in family law.

Beachler's profile on YouCaring.com (http://tinyurl.com/bce4pw9) has raised about $150 in the roughly two weeks since it went up.

The website she chose doesn't charge her anything to solicit donations, but a credit card processing fee is deducted from the amount donors contribute.

Some online crowdfunding websites keep a small percentage of donations.

Most of Beachler's supporters have been friends and relatives. Others were strangers giving small amounts.

She's willing to meet in person with local potential donors to answer questions and assure them that she's legit. So far nobody's taken her up on it.

The aspiring lawyer isn't shy or ashamed about taking her cause public on the Internet...or in the newspaper.

Whatever it takes to get a degree.

"This is going to happen, one way or another," Beachler said. "If I have to live on the streets out there, I'll do it."

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