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by Agnes Jasinski

An analysis of long-term data conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education has found that the number of students who default on their loans is far greater than what the federal government has been reporting. According to the data, about one in every five federal student loans overall has gone into default since 1995; the default rate for student loans covering costs at for-profit colleges is even higher, at 40 percent. The default rate for community college students is about 31 percent.

The federal government’s numbers are much lower. The U.S. Department of Education reported default rates for federally guaranteed student loans at about 6.9 percent for fiscal year 2007’s cohort. Why the disparity? The Chronicle says the government’s numbers only show those students who defaulted on their loans two years after entering repayment. The Chronicle’s analysis looks at 15 years of data. According to their new analysis, default rates only worsened as time went on, increasing years after those borrowers had left college.

For-profit colleges have already been getting some negative attention lately, with legislators concerned about the share of federal financial aid the schools receive compared to their total enrollment numbers. (The for-profit sector accounts for less than 10 percent of total enrollments but about 25 percent of federal financial aid disbursements.) This new data certainly won’t help them. If the federal government moves to pass rules on student loan default rates, a number of those institutions could be at risk for losing federal aid if they cannot improve their numbers. According to the Chronicle, there are a number of for-profit colleges out there that have default rates even higher than 40 percent, including the Tesst College of Technology and Chicago’s College of Office Technology.

No matter how you skeptically you look at the numbers—critics of the data have already said the numbers don’t consider the economy and the demographics and total enrolled at community college and for-profit universities versus four-year institutions—default rates should be taken seriously. Defaulting on your student loan is never a good idea. It hurts your credit, and any wages you do have may be seized by the government that issued you that loan. It’ll then be harder to not only make ends meet, but to get other loans years down the line, including mortgages and new credit cards. You may also be faced with higher interest rates if you are able to land that car loan. You can see now how important it is to borrow responsibly and make sure that if you do need to take out student loans, you’re doing so to pay for the costs of an accredited program that will help you land a decent job after graduation.


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by Agnes Jasinski

In response to recent criticisms of for-profit colleges, the U.S. Department of Education announced a rule today that will cut off federal aid to those schools that leave students with loan debts they are unable to handle once they receive their degrees and certificates. The new “gainful employment” rule would also penalize those programs with the lowest loan-repayment rates, meaning for-profit colleges will be more on the hook to make sure those enrolled in their programs are being prepared for the job search and for entering the workforce.

The for-profit sector currently accounts for less than 10 percent of total enrollments but about 25 percent of federal financial aid disbursements. Congress has also been looking at the issue this summer, with some legislators concerned by the large amounts of debt students were being saddled with at some for-profit colleges when compared to the comparably low salaries they could expect to receive upon completion of those programs, or the difficulty they may have finding work at all. In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education today, officials with the Education Department said this was a way to both protect students and taxpayers, as the measure could help prevent both groups from incurring the high costs of student-loan defaults. 

According to the article, the new rule would consider the number of borrowers repaying their federal student loans against the ratio of total student loan debt to average earnings. About 5 percent of for-profit programs nationwide may be affected by the new rule, and thus would become ineligible for federal aid. About 55 percent on the cusp of ineligibility might need to become more forthright with potential students about excessive borrowing. The new rule doesn’t go as far as the Education Department had initially proposed; that first proposal would have cut federal aid to those programs where a majority of students’ loan payments exceeded 8 percent of the lowest quarter of students’ expected earnings over 10 years of repayment, according to The Chronicle.

Most for-profit schools do serve an important purpose, especially for students changing careers or looking for a flexible alternative. If you’re interested in a career college, just make sure you do your research. There are programs out there that are accredited, or that meet a set of standards from the Education Department, and qualified to give you an advantage in the job market.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments today on the intricacies of one student's 20-year-old debt that could change the way bankruptcy law handles student loan cases.

The case, United Student Aid Funds Inc. v Espinosa, goes back to 1992, when Francisco Espinosa, a technical school graduate, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Espinosa by then owed nearly $18,000 in not only student loans taken out four years earlier, but interest on those loans to lender United Student Aid Funds Inc. He filed for bankruptcy to relieve him not of his loan debt, but the nearly $5,000 in interest accrued on the $13,000 he initially borrowed. Thinking he had reached an agreement with his lender, Espinosa eventually paid off the principal on the loan over a five-year period.

Several years later, however, he received notice from his lender that he still owed the remaining interest. The lender claimed Espinosa had not sufficiently shown "undue hardship," a requirement under bankruptcy law for students to qualify their student loans under Chapter 13. Espinosa says he fell on hard times when the hours for his baggage handler job through airline America West were cut, and he was unable to find a job that fit his degree in computer drafting and design through the technical college.

That's when the legal battle began. Espinosa won on the bankruptcy court level, but the district courts ruled in favor of the lender and demanded a hearing to show whether Espinosa met the criteria for a bankruptcy filing. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was too late for the lender to challenge the filing, which then landed the case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education previewing the case this week looked at the implications of the court's eventual ruling. If the Supreme Court overturns the last appeals court's decision, lenders could feel free to collect back interest on student loans that have already been approved for Chapter 13. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Espinosa, lenders could be open to abuse by borrowers taking advantage of the law to get out of their student loan repayments. The article suggests that the Court should consider redefining the "undue hardship" criteria to make it easier for judges to apply that criteria across the board, as many say it is already too subjective.

The case is an important one for students, especially in a difficult economic time when college students are not only borrowing more, but having a tougher time finding jobs to make payments on their student loan debt. Student loan default rates are also on the rise for both federal and private loans as tuitions only continue to rise. If you're worried about the amount of debt you'll accrue going to that dream school, consider all of your options. Factor college cost into your college search, and make sure you have a good idea of financial aid and scholarship money available to you before taking out student loans.


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by Agnes Jasinski

What if those worried about whether they can handle the rigors of college had an option to ease their worries about whether they were making a good investment? Would "failure insurance" get more of these hesitant students onto college campuses? How would students pay into such a program if they're already struggling to come up with the funds to cover college costs?

An academic paper called Insuring College Failure Risk put together by Satyajit Chatterjee, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and A. Felicia Ionescu, an assistant professor of economics at Colgate University, looked at the benefits of failure insurance, or policies that would reimburse students or offer forgiveness of some of their student loans if they flunked out of school. The paper concluded that the policies would be most useful to students from low-income backgrounds, a population that has been found to have higher college drop-out rates than other groups of students.

So how would it all work? The authors put forward a series of mathematical models that looked at both students' decisions to go to college and their decisions to drop out, finding that most any decision students make about college is a financial one. An insurance policy that offered students an amount that was high enough to make sense for them to continue taking classes, and often taking on more debt, but not so high that it would be an easy decision to drop out for the financial incentive, would be most successful. Students would be eligible for some loan forgiveness if they met the criteria for failing grades. Because students would still bear some of their student loan burden, that total would go toward something of a deductible, and could potentially work to keep more students in school so that they can avoid paying those fees to whatever insurance carriers would be offering these policies. Students would only have one shot at such an insurance policy, meaning they'd be on their own if they returned to school later in life after having flunked out.

Obviously something needs to be done to address high college dropout rates and the number of former students out there saddled with student loan debts but no degrees to speak of. According to the Federal Reserve Bank’s Survey of Consumer Finances, on average about 47 percent of those not in school with student loans to repay report that they don’t have two- or four-year college degrees. An article this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests there's no way to tell whether the academic paper has any legs outside of academic circles, and also points to other researchers' suggestions that offer students an incentive to stay in school - lowering tuition and fees and increasing access to and amounts of financial aid assistance, as examples.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Despite some Republication opposition, The House of Representatives voted 253-171 to approve a bill Thursday that would stop lending from the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program in favor of the Department of Education-run Federal Direct Loans Program by July 2010. The bill, known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, would also increase the current maximum Federal Pell Grant from $5,350 to $5,550 and provide for annual increases to the grant in the years to follow through a $40 billion pool of funding over the next decade.

The bill is expected to have more of a fight when it comes before the Senate, where even Democrats have voiced concerns about the potential for job losses in states that headquarter private loan agencies. Many Republican lawmakers argue that the student loan industry has served college students well, and oppose the government takeover.

Amendments to the bill that failed before its passage looked at ways to allow the private sector to continue student lending as a way to offer the college-bound more choice in financing their educations. Amendments that passed included strengthening support services to borrowers and making part-time students eligible for Year-Round Federal Pell Grants, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid and Administrators.

The bill would also:

  • use the projected $87 billion in savings from the move to direct lending to expand aid to students and colleges.
  • provide $10 billion in grants to community colleges as part of the Obama administration's American Graduation Initiative, a project that aims to nearly double the number of two-year institutions across the country.
  • overhaul the Perkins Loan program and expand its funding from $1 to $6 billion per year.
  • provide $8 billion in grants targeting early-learning programs over the next 10 years.
  • make interest rates on need-based federal student loans variable starting in 2012.
  • simplify the financial aid application process.

The legislation has broad support from the Obama administration. The president called the bill a "historic set of reforms," adding in a statement that the bill "will end the billions upon billions of dollars in unwarranted subsidies that we hand out to banks and financial institutions." Currently, about one-forth of students' loans come through the government's direct loan program.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As a response to "operating in unsettled and ... unsettling times," Williams College has decided to stop offering its no-loan student-aid program and to reintroduce modest student loans to students' financial aid packages.

In an open letter to the Williams community released over the weekend, the school's Interim President Bill Wagner said the change would not affect current students, but beginning with the class that enters in the fall of 2011. Families below a certain income will still not be expected to borrow at all, and other students will be offered loans on a sliding scale up to a maximum size that the school says will still be among the lowest in the country.

Student loans were eliminated at Williams in the 2008-2009 academic year, joining more than 30 private colleges that had adopted similar policies, such as Amherst and Claremont McKenna colleges. (There have already been rumors that Amherst College may join Williams in amending its own policy.) The decision to cut loans out of students' financial aid packages came at a time when the school's endowment had grown so large that there were demands to spend more. But at the same time, more students were applying for and qualifying for financial aid.

Williams isn't the only college to renege on a promise to students, nor is it the first. Lafayette College raised the loan limit it pledged to students from $2,500 a year to $3,500 a year if they had family incomes of between $50,000 and $100,000. Dartmouth College has been requiring loans again for those at certain levels now exempt from borrowing. Endowments across the country have plummeted, suffering their worst losses since the Great Depression. According to an article in The Chronicle for Higher Education published last week, the value of college endowments declined by an average of 23 percent from 2008 to 2009. An endowment student sponsored by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that of the 654 institutions that reported carrying long-term debt, the average debt load grew from $109.1 million to $167.8 million.

Are "no loans" policies feasible at all? Some critics explain that there are students currently exempt from taking out loans who could easily be able to pay them off once they graduate. Students with family incomes of more than $120,000 have the resources to borrow less than other students, critics say, and the focus instead should be on helping low-income students keep their loan debts at a minimum. Williams hasn't been clear as to what the family income cutoff would be for its new policy, but it will undoubtedly hit the middle class hard.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Despite recent trends of more students across the country enrolling at institutions of higher learning, many students and their families remain mostly uninformed and unprepared to navigate the college and financial aid application process, according to a report issued yesterday called "Planning for College: A Consumer Approach to the Higher Education Marketplace."

The report, from MassINC, a think tank in Massachusetts, looked at decisions students and families need to make when applying to and paying for college, and the information they need to make those decisions. It found that students and parents currently have great difficulty "getting the most out of their col­lege dollar," as the price of higher education only continues to rise.

Perhaps even more alarming is that families have started borrowing more to pay for college, without considering risk and the rate of their return. Related to increases in student borrowing amounts, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday looks at the idea that doctoral students finish faster if they take out large loans. The most obvious answer why is that taking out more student loans allows the students to take more classes, and quit part-time jobs that may have been reducing their college costs. It's a choice students must make every day - should you sacrifice some comfort to reduce your student loan debt, even if it means taking longer to complete your degree? It's a personal decision, but students should be aware that they'll be expected to start repaying any debt once they graduate.

The Massachusetts study also found that students and families had little knowledge of tax benefits and college savings plans, and how to compare them. For example, there are 118 different 529 Plans, and the resources out there do little in the way of pointing consumers to the advantages and disadvantages of each. Families and students also admit to knowing little about the actual sticker price of colleges, as that often depends on the funds available to assist incoming students, an unknown when those students first apply.

The report's authors suggest families and students must become more like "savvy consumers" who are able to understand and successfully manipulate the college and financial aid application process to their advantage. The process should also be made less complex, an idea that is already being explored by federal legislation such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Finally, families need reliable measures about the educational experience that colleges and universities offer beyond the annual rankings we see in the Princeton Review, for example. According to the report, while the U.S. Department of Education is providing increasingly consistent and accessible indicators, such as graduation rates, this branch of the college-bound decision remains the weakest.


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by Agnes Jasinski

To compensate for stalled negotiations on both health care legislation and a bill that would overhaul the country's student loan program and improve college students' access to federal aid, Democratic leaders proposed a solution yesterday that would move both of those hot-button issues forward—combine them, and pass them as one.

Both the comprehensive health care bill, which would guarantee health insurance to 30 million uninsured Americans, and the student loan bill, which would replace private lending with direct lending through the government and increase Pell Grant maximums, have faced opposition as Democrats work to pass both through Congress before the November mid-term elections. To kill two birds with one stone, Democratic legislators proposed bundling the two bills into one last night, not only to give the proposals a better chance at passage, but to keep them alive long enough for a vote by the full Senate and House.

An article in the New York Times yesterday describes the strong support a dual measure already has among the Democrats, suggesting that adding the student loan bill to the more expansive health care legislation would improve the health care bill's chances at passage. (Providing college students with more access to federal aid is undoubtedly more popular and less controversial than crafting a reasonable health care bill.)

The student loan bill had already passed in the House. Recent predictions have the government saving about $67 billion by going to direct lending; that new funding would go toward Pell Grants and other education programs. (A rise in the number of people attending college and seeking aid in the weak economy has raised the projected cost of new Pell Grants to $54 billion from $40 billion, according to the New York Times.) The student loan bill has been a consistent goal of President Obama's, as lenders have come under fire for a lack of oversight,  rising student loan default rates, and contributing to excessive debt among college students. Effectively, the bill would put an end to direct-to-student private loans, which students can borrow without even informing the financial aid office, and which can be taken out for more than the student’s cost of attendance for the academic year.

The private student loan industry has obviously not been very supportive of the bill, and Republicans have questioned whether giving the government control over the student loan industry is really a wise choice.


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2011: The College Edition

January 3, 2012

2011: The College Edition

by Angela Andaloro

There are lots of 2011 recap lists circulating the Internet but the one you are about to read comes from a different perspective: a college student's! There were many interesting events that occurred this year that involved colleges – here’s to the lessons we’ve learned this year...and the lessons ahead of us!

Occupy Wall Street: This nationwide protest had great appeal to college students, who have expressed their frustrations at rising tuition costs and the amount of debt students are accruing. Students participated in walkouts in November to express their unity with the movement and also faced off with police. (I’m sure no one will forget the UC Davis pepper spraying photo and its viral impact any time soon.)

Controversy: Controversy has swept colleges by storm in the latter half of this year with scandals occurring at both Penn State and Syracuse University. While these stories raised many concerns amongst parents and students, it also increased the sense of community and unity amongst the students at these schools and beyond. This was illustrated best by a building on the Penn State campus sporting an adaptation of their classic “We are Penn State!” chant: Following the controversy surrounding the football program, the building now reads “We are still Penn State!” showing that despite recent incidents, students are still proud to be Nittany Lions.

Achievements: College students around the country - including you! - have been accomplishing great things all year long. Whether it was passing a tough class, being awarded a scholarship or scoring an amazing internship, the things you’ve achieved this year contributed to the overall scope of college life in 2011. Surely, your accomplishments will continue on and play a role in making 2012 a happy, healthy, successful year for us all.

Have something to add? Let us know which events were important on your campus this year!

Angela Andaloro is a junior at Pace University’s New York City campus, where she is double majoring in communication studies and English. Like most things in New York City, her life and college experience is far from typical – she commutes to school from her home in Flushing and took nearly a semester’s worth of classes online – but she still likes to hang out with friends, go to parties and feed her social networking addiction like your “average” college student.


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Easy Ways to Afford Your Dream School

by Brittni Fitzgerald

Whether it is gas, food or tuition, prices are rising on everything. Everyone wants to attend their dream college without having to end up in debt at the end. College tuition will, depending on your university, have a small increase in price every academic year but if you plan ahead and follow these helpful tips, you can ease that financial burden.

First, open a savings account at your local bank to learn how to manage your money. Banks such as Fifth Third offer students goal setter savings accounts, which allow students to put money into the bank to gain interest as well as receive a 10-percent bonus when they reach their goal. A goal can be $500 and up and you cannot make withdrawal until the goal is met. This feature allows the money to grow without allowing you to give in to temptation and drain the account.

Another way to save is by adjusting your meal plan each semester. Most colleges and universities require that all freshmen have a meal plan each semester and upperclassmen usually have some sort of meal plan whether they live on campus or off. Meal plans are packaged with room and board and can become very expensive. Instead of choosing the meal plan with the most meals per day, choose a meal plan that works for your appetite.

Finally, consider applying to be a resident assistant, or RA, in the university dorms. RAs have to take on a lot of responsibilities like mentoring students and enforcing residence hall policies in addition to a full class schedule but the tradeoff is well worth it: Room and board is free.

Though she moved from Fremont, Calif., to Chicago at the age of 5, Brittni Fitzgerald will always remember the sun and fun of California life. She is the youngest of six children and is currently attending Chicago State University. There, Brittni is an accounting major and an active member of the Student Government Association but also a published poet (in 8th grade, her work was published with the Illinois’s 2004 “Celebrate! Young Poets Speak Out”). Brittni enjoys running, swimming, dancing, singing and shopping. Her motto is “Live Life Loud.”


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