With the dire economic news showing no signs of easing anytime soon, officials at River Forest’s two universities have stepped in to help ease the financial burden on students and their families.

Dominican University and Concordia University have launched comprehensive plans to address the financial and emotional needs of current students, their families and even alumni.

In what might be termed “prudent generosity,” the schools are looking for ways to help students cope financially, within the school’s own economic limits.

Concordia is increasing scholarship aid between $1,500 to $2,000 per incoming student next year, as well as looking to provide additional work-study opportunities. Dominican has unveiled a comprehensive plan to assist both undergraduate and post-graduate students, and even interested alumni.

Effective January 2009, Dominican’s School of Leadership and Continuing Studies will make available a limited number of academic scholarships to the parents of current undergraduate students who are between jobs and are seeking to complete their bachelor’s or master’s degrees as a means of enhancing their job prospects.

Dominican is also expanding the number of on-campus student jobs by at least 30 positions and, effective July 2009, will raise the entry-level student wage to $8.50 per hour. Campus work opportunities are especially attractive as off-campus jobs are currently scarce and because they allow students flexibility in balancing classes with work while providing important mentoring opportunities.

“We’re undertaking efforts that won’t have a significant impact on our bottom line,” said Amy McCormack, Dominican’s senior vice president for business. “We want to help within reasonable means.”

Officials from both schools said they’ve been aware of the growing problem for a while now.

“I think since August, we’ve been focused on the economic climate,” said McCormack. “We’re recognizing there are a lot of stresses on our students and the community in general.”

“It’s a huge concern. Everyone is concerned,” said Evelyn Burdick, Concordia’s vice president for enrollment and marketing.

“Before we began the fall semester, and anticipating the struggle families and students might face if the economy continued to not improve, we added additional on-campus opportunities for student jobs for our current students,” she said.

With their modest enrollments-Dominican has roughly 1,700 undergraduate students, and roughly the same number of graduate students, while Concordia has 1,156 undergraduates-the schools say they’re able to focus in a way larger universities cannot.

“We do pride ourselves on our relationships,” said McCormack.

“Because of our size, in many ways it’s easier for us to know our students,” Burdick agreed, noting that all of Concordia’s students receive some type of financial assistance. Scholarship levels there will increase next fall between $1,500 and $2,000 additional per incoming student.   

As with Dominican, Burdick said Concordia is also keenly aware of the efforts many families make to provide their child a Concordia education, which costs roughly $29,000 per year.

“Our students and families are making a sacrifice to attend a private college,” she said, and the number of economically challenged families is certain to grow in the near future.

“Over the next several years, we’re going to have more students from families that have some loss of income, either from job loss or otherwise.”

“More than in the past, I believe special family circumstances are common,” said Burdick.

McCormack said some current Dominican students, and those who recently graduated, may likely see the current bad economy as a good time to hold back from entering the work force and instead pursue a graduate degree. To that end, the university is encouraging students to continue their educations and enhance their marketability during a tight job market by offering seniors graduating in January and May 2009 a 10-percent reduction on tuition in its four professional graduate programs, including the Brennan School of Business, the Graduate School of Social Work, the School of Education and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

The tuition reduction, which is effective for two full academic years, amounts to an average $3,000 per student.

The Dominican program also addresses the needs of recent alumni who are struggling with the current weak job market. Additional skills workshops on resume writing, interviewing and financial management are being offered free of charge, beginning in January, and will continue as long as necessary.

“These workshops will be offered free of charge beginning in January and will continue as long as necessary,” said McCormack. “We’re looking at the overall Dominican community.”

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