The Falcon   |   Volume 83, Issue 53

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Student finances a talking point

By , Staff Reporter

Published: October 31 2012

Freshman Austin Headrick knew he wanted to go to college, but with his family’s uncertain finances, he wasn’t sure how he could afford it.

“If I can better myself, I can better my country and my world,” said Headrick.

Headrick said his mom inspired him to go to college.

“Supporting my two younger sisters and me for 21 years on a bartender’s salary is a feat I wholeheartedly respect,” he said.

Headrick said he knew paying for college was going to be a problem, but he heard through friends that financial aid could be available to him.

“If it were not for my student loans and Pell grant, I would not be where I am today,” Headrick said.

With a $5,550 Pell grant, along with $9,500 in student loans, Headrick says he is grateful for his financial assistance and hopes to someday pastor a church in a third world country.

As the national student debt hits $1 trillion, President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney have made federal student loans a talking point.

In a town-hall debate earlier this month, 20-year-old student Jeremy Epstein asked Obama and Romney what they would do to help him get a job after he graduates.

“I want to make sure we keep our Pell grant program growing,” said Romney. “We’re also going to have our loan program, so that people are able to afford school.”

Obama responded.

“I want everybody to get a great education,” Obama said. “We worked hard to make sure that student loans are available for folks like you.”

Under the current Obama administration, the range of income at which people qualify for Pell grants has increased. Obama capped student loan payments at 10 percent of a student lender’s income—a five percent decrease from before.

“There is a misperception that private lenders don’t lend to students,” said Jordan Grant, assistant vice president of undergraduate enrollment management. “That’s just not true,” he said. “They still lend to students, but they are non-federal loans.”

Grant explained that private loans don’t have the same rules as federal loans. While private loans are credit based, federal loans are need based.

“[With federal loans] we are able to get money to students faster, streamline administration costs and have flexibility with loans,” said Grant, who has been involved in financial aid since 1994.

He added that he hopes students will think critically before incurring large amounts of debt. America’s collective student loan debt surpasses the nation’s credit card debt.

Romney said in the debate that, if elected, he would lower the income limit that would qualify people for Pell Grants. He also said college students who attend less than half time would be ineligible for the grants.

Some, however, claim that Romney’s response at the October town-hall debate is a reversal from his previous stance because he said he wanted to keep the Pell Grant system going.

Contrasted with Obama’s plan, this is an act that Seattle Pacific University’s Republican Club President Allyson Meadows said would help reduce government waste.

“If we are just pouring our money without watching where it goes, it doesn’t matter how much we have or where we invest it,” Meadows said.

SPU’s Young Democratic Club president Hope Estes said she understands the concern for our rising national debt, but that education is a public good that the government needs to invest in.

“Our [student] debt is insane,” Estes said. “But that is a problem within our education system.”

Others share Meadow’s concerns.

Senior Skyler Simpson said that he liked how Obama kept grants, but he worried about the amount of government spending on student loans.

“We should be focusing more on the underprivileged students. We shouldn’t be giving these grants to just anyone,” Simpson said.

Some are confused about the specifics of Romney’s student loan plans, said Debbie Bristol, assistant director for student loans and corrections.

According to Bristol, the Direct Funding Program has revolutionized financial aid by saving time and making money easily accessible for students.

“Before, the students had to choose from a laundry list of lenders and had to match up all the different information,” Bristol said. “It was cumbersome.”

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