Graduating students might not realize that there are programs in place to help cushion the upcoming financial blow of student loans.

A Money magazine article said there are alternatives that can help students with that “ball and chain that you’ve been dragging around for years.” Not only that, but according to a 2013 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “one-quarter of working Americans are eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, but only a small percentage are using it,” the article reported.

These alternatives range from “loan forgiveness programs for health care professionals” such as the Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program that largely applies to nursing majors on campus, to a Perkins Loan cancelation and discharge and other methods as well for teachers, volunteers and those who have a disability that prevents them from working for five years or longer.

Student loans are the largest debt in the nation Plattsburgh State Assistant Director of Financial Aid Kerry Lubold said.

The debt from student loans exceeds both mortgages and credit cards, and the total national student debt, Lubold said, totals nearly $1.2 trillion. Meanwhile, a May 2014 New York Daily News article reported that New York state college grads owe an average of just over $27,000. This contributes to a collective statewide debt of $60 billion.

Lubold said that while, in the past, the average time it took for students to pay off their loans was 10 years, “averages these days are growing.”
This was evident in an October 2014 U.S. News and World Report article, which said that the average bachelor’s degree-holder takes 21 years to pay off his or her loans.

“It all depends on how much the student has borrowed, their ability to find satisfactory work employment and manage budgets,” Lubold said. “I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult for students to manage a 10-year repayment because the size of their borrowings has had to grow as the cost of college has grown.”

Lubold said it’s easy for students to forget about their loan obligation while in college, and by the time students graduate, life happens, and suddenly they face their first bill.

However, students have a myriad of resources at their disposal.

The website for Federal Student Aid, studentaid.ed.gov, has information on college preparation, such as how to prepare for college, types of aid available, whether a particular student qualifies for aid, how to apply, loan management and so on.

The PSUC financial aid office is also a resource for students and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The Perkins Loan is an additional federal student loan program, in limited supply, which is supported by tax-payers and those in repayment. However, Lubold said, the Perkins Loan program expired last year. Due to a year-long grace period, as of Sept. 30, 2015, the funding will disappear.

Unless there is congressional action to revitalize the program, new and returning students will not be able to draw funds from that program to help pay for college.

“The disappointing thing is it has been a program over the years — at least, here at Plattsburgh — that supports about 250 students a year,” Lubold said. “It’s been a very useful program. It is going to create quite a gap for high-needs students. It’s unfortunate.”

She and others in the financial-aid office have done “quite a bit of outreach” to state and federal governments to lobby a change.

“I was in Washington, D.C., a year ago,” she said. “It’s been longstanding that financial aid does a lot of advocacy.”

In addition, she said students, their parents and taxpayers are trying to make a difference as well.

“Our responsibility is to try and keep students as informed as possible while they’re making loan decisions,” Lubold said. “It’s very easy to sign for a loan. We have a responsibility to try and keep the government and those who make decisions on (the students’ behalf) aware of what students are facing today, and most importantly, to let students know of their options, to continue to be a resource to students, so that when you graduate and you’re facing a difficult decision, or a tough time, or a break in employment. You can come to us.”

Lubold said the students’ responsibility is to keep in mind the debt they accumulate.

Jack Hughes, a PSUC freshman and double major in finance and economics, said that he has had difficulty trusting loan-forgiveness programs because of repeated messages in his spam email inbox.

“Right off the bat, I just discredit anything that comes into my spam box unless it’s someone I know,” Hughes said, “(but) maybe there is some validity to this, and if I could save money, of course, that would be great.”

Tyler Wallace, a freshman with a major in accounting, said he has heard about students having difficulties finding jobs after graduation and that it is a valid concern.

However, Wallace said “that’s going to be in four or five years, so I really can’t say what the job market’s going to be like.”

There are other students, such as Raissa Barbacena, an environmental science major and exchange student from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who receive a free education at PSUC.

“We have particular institutions where you have to pay for an education,” Barbacena said. “But all the public universities are free. I’m from a free university, so I don’t pay for college.”

Barbacena said American students “pay a lot for college” and it’s a “huge problem.” In Brazil, free universities are subsidized by the Brazilian government.

She said the concept of free college is something some might not want to think about because American culture is “involved in paid universities” and it’s “something normal that happens.”

However, she said that it shouldn’t be like that, calling it “basic education.”

“College should be accessible to everyone, but it’s not,” Barbacena said. “In Brazil, we don’t have exactly the perfect system, but we do have free college to people who have a high level of education.”

For citizens of Brazil, aspiring students must take a test to get into a free college.

“I feel that it’s a little bit better than here,” she said. “You don’t have to sell yourself to pay for college.”

Email Tim Lyman at timothy.lyman@cardinalpointsonline.com

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