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Spending more for school, green buildings

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EDUCATION SPEND TRENDS HIGHER: U.S. families are scrambling to pay for the ever-rising cost of their children's college educations, a new survey shows.

Families said their spending for education rose 24 percent, on average, to $24,907 during the 2009-10 school year.

The biggest chunk of money for college — 37 percent — came from parents' income and savings. Loans taken out by parents and students made up another 24 percent. Grants and scholarships contributed 23 percent of school fees, the survey said.

Parents paid for nearly half of students' college costs, whether through loans or from their savings and income. The survey showed that amid the weak economy, parents are making sacrifices to come up with the money for their children's education. Nearly a quarter said they have cut their general household spending, while about half said they have worked more hours or otherwise increased their earnings.

The report, commissioned by student loan provider Sallie Mae and conducted by pollster Gallup, surveyed about 1,600 people by telephone from March 24-May 3. About half the survey respondents were undergraduate students ages 18-24 and the other half were parents of students. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

HEALTHY BUILDINGS: People think they're healthier and more productive after moving their office space into "green" buildings, according to a recent study published on the American Journal of Public Health's website.

A group of researchers working with Michigan State University surveyed two groups of employees before and after moving from conventional office buildings to LEED-certified buildings in the same Michigan area. After moving to the new building, employees said they thought they called out sick less and were more productive.

LEED certification is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ratings system issued by a building industry association. It is the dominant "green" program for buildings in the U.S.

The authors estimated a small benefit to employees suffering from asthma and respiratory allergies. Those people would gain 1.75 more work hours per year working in the new building because they would take less sick time.

The biggest boost comes in perceived productivity. The study's authors extrapolated that employees could each work about 39 more hours a year in the new building because of different working conditions such as better light, air quality and ventilation.

To be sure, the survey did not independently track whether employees actually did stay out sick more often after moving to the new building. The authors also noted that the surveys were taken at different times of the year, so seasonal factors may have affected how often employees thought they got sick.

The two surveys tracked 263 employees in Lansing, Mich.