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Optimism survives at La. colleges even as troubled economy sheds jobs and undermines work plans of graduating seniors.

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) -- Although many may not be losing sleep over it--yet--some Louisiana college students are anxious about the state of the nation's economy.

"There is a lot of stress among us all because we feel the pressure to keep going," either as students, which can be expensive, or looking for a job in an already gloomy job market, said Elaine Tellock, 29, a senior nursing major at Louisiana State University at Alexandria.

The cost to attend college rose 6.4 percent at state universities, according to a recent national study.

The Congressional Budget Office says that nationwide 760,000 payroll jobs have been lost in the first nine months of this year, including 159,000 in September.

Tellock said she is not too concerned about finding work in her field, but she does worry about higher consumer prices, such as for her daycare and for credit card interest rates.

LSUA psychology major Melissa Cruzier remembers when her student loan was enough to pay for her tuition, books and even for gas.

Those days are gone.

"I had to take a job because" of the higher cost of living, including higher gas prices, she said. "My financial aid wasn't covering it all anymore."

When gas prices were climbing, Cruzier also traded her Silverado truck for a smaller, more gas-efficient car.

"We are just trying to tighten our belts ... by not eating out as much," she said.

But even with lower gas prices these days easing some of the concerns, her estimated $30,000 in college loans is in the back of her mind.

"We hear rumors everyday how the government is not going to be able to guarantee all these loans and stuff like that ... so it just makes you worry," she said.

Paul Monteleone, interim director of financial aid at LSUA, said he doesn't anticipate any student loans at LSUA will be affected by the economic crisis, at this time.

He also said it's highly unlikely the government won't back a student loan.

"There are a number of discussions on how this crisis will affect colleges, but everything that I've seen from the financial aid side of it is that loans aren't going to go away," he said.

Monteleone did say that some independent agencies serving as lenders are getting out of the student loan business while others are looking closely at the volume of loans they process at a particular school and deciding whether they will continue doing so.

That, however, is not expected to affect students' ability to get loans, he said.

"While students may run into issues," such as whether a particular lender continues to lend money or that there are stricter requirements to get a loan, "there is going to be a way to borrow a student loan," Monteleone said.

Louisiana College business senior Kris Lee, 22, said that around campus there is a lot of talk about the economy as students read and watch news reports of a gloomy economic outlook.

Lee said underneath the worrying there is a degree of faith that things would get better and the economy will improve.

"I really have faith in my country, even though pride can be looked upon as a bad thing, I really think my country is so prideful they would do anything in their power not to fall by the way side," Lee said.

Many students say the future will depend on new generations of college graduates and their preparation for tougher times.

Even before the economic crisis spread, Louisiana College prelaw student Farah Gheith, 19, had been working out what she describes as her "fallback plan."

"I own my business and I know that you can't really rely on the economy because right now it's really, really slow, so my fallback plan is school," said Gheith, owner of Oasis Hookah Lounge. She also works at a law firm.

College officials from Northwestern State University said news of a shaky economy hasn't affected the job planning of graduating seniors on their campus.

Jeff Meagley, a senior business administration major at Northwestern State, said he hopes to work for a major U.S. bank after graduating.

He also has plans to train as a funeral director in the future.

"I've got my career set in stone," Meagley said. "I've wanted to do it since I was young, but I have adjusted the time span."

Brittany Ford, a senior business administration major from Calvin, plans to work for a company that inspects gas pipelines. A positive summer internship experience led to a job offer.

Both Meagley and Ford are following the credit crisis closely.

The topic comes up regularly in their finance classes as the causes of the crisis and possible solutions are discussed.

Mark Scbaub, a professor of finance at NSU, said it's important to bring these issues into the classroom. He said students need a better understanding of what they will lace as they leave school and start their careers.
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Title Annotation:tracking trends
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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