The U.S. Department of Education released a series of new statistical reports last week showing a dramatic increase in participation in the federal direct lending student loan program. Motivated largely by the economic downturn and the credit crunch of the last year, 400 new colleges joined the federal direct lending program. Overall, student borrowing through the program has increased by 50 percent in the last year.
The federal direct lending program provides students at participating schools with Stafford Loans directly, instead of going through the intermediary of a bank, as is done in the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). In previous years, borrowing through FFELP could land students with lower interest rates, as well as significant repayment incentives, but that has changed significantly since 2007 as a result of subsidy cuts and economic difficulties faced by FFELP lenders. Since direct loans are serviced directly by the Education Department, they are largely exempt from the fallout of the credit crunch and are currently more appealing to many colleges.
There is good news for students at schools that continue to participate in FFELP, though. Lenders are participating in the loan buyback program enacted as part of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act passed earlier this year. About 40 percent of the student loans in the bank system have been sold to the Education Department, with paperwork being completed on much of the remaining balance. This move appears to have worked to allow lenders to fund loans for students, as the Education Department also reports that not a single student has had to participate in the federal "lender of last resort" program.
In other financial aid news, Congress recently approved $2.5 billion in Pell Grant funding, to help tide the program over through March 2009, at which point most spring semester grant awards should have been disbursed. All of this news suggests that students are highly likely to be able to continue to find federal student financial aid for college, at least for the forseeable future. Of course, finding scholarships and avoiding student loans is still a smart plan, but this news suggests that despite growing fears about the economy, federal financial aid will still be available to students who need it.