To combat a global economic downturn increasingly affecting students, OSU has pledged a comprehensive plan to protect financial aid from budget cuts, increase availability and flexibility of emergency loans and step up outreach for students in need.

To combat a global economic downturn increasingly affecting students, OSU has pledged a comprehensive plan to protect financial aid from budget cuts, increase availability and flexibility of emergency loans and step up outreach for students in need.

Ohio State officials behind the Students First initiative don't want college to become a luxury. Instead, they hope to show current and future students that options are available for education.

"It's not reactive - it's proactive - but there's every reason to believe this will be needed as we move forward," said Martha Garland, vice provost for enrollment services and dean of undergraduate education. "People are going to have to make tough decisions, but we don't want them to think college is out of reach."

The plan covers current students and those admitted for fall 2009. To qualify, students must demonstrate need by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, available at fafsa.ed.gov.

In the long term, officials have pledged to bolster financial aid if tuition increases and reaffirmed the university's stance against mid-year hikes. A two-year freeze on tuition increases for Ohio's state colleges expires at the end of this school year.

In the short term, OSU has transferred $1 million from its rainy day fund to an emergency loan pool, making available more than $1.8 million for quick financial fixes. Officials recently upped the loan limit to $1,000 from $500, lowered interest rates and lengthened repayment deadlines.

OSU also is hosting forums to answer financial-aid questions, and officials will follow up with first-year students who didn't re-enroll for winter quarter to make sure the cost wasn't a deciding factor.

"We haven't seen a downturn [in enrollment] yet, but we did see more phone calls to Financial Aid at the beginning of the year," Garland added.

Nationally, many private loan pools have dried up, but the U.S. Department of Education has renewed its commitment to providing federally insured loans.

"I understand that especially in tough economic times, students and families are anxious about the increasing costs of college," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a statement last week. "I want to reassure them that we have taken aggressive actions to ensure that students have ongoing access to federal student loans for 2009-10 and beyond."

As of Nov. 28, the federal government had guaranteed or made $65.2 billion in student loans for the current school year, up 18.6 percent from a year earlier, according to The Wall Street Journal.