Placing college affordability on his agenda, President Barack Obama is moving forward with initiatives to help students, whether they’re headed to college or have graduated.
In his State of the Union address Feb. 12, Obama said he and Congress would work to make higher education affordable for all students.
“Most young people will need some higher education,” Obama said. “It’s a simple fact: The more education you’ve got, the more likely you are to have a good job and work your way into the middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price too many young people out of a higher education or saddle them with unsustainable debt.”
The Obama administration has created online tools such as the College Scorecard based on “affordability and value” for prospective students and modified the Higher Education Act to make student loan repayment less stressful for former, current and future college students.
An initiative for loan repayment called Pay as You Earn went into effect Dec. 21.
Pay as You Earn allows students with federal loans to make low, monthly payments based on income that are usually capped at 10 percent. After 20 years of payment, the remaining loan balance will be forgiven. To qualify, borrowers must demonstrate partial financial hardship, meaning their loan payments are high in relation to their income. Loans must have been taken out after Oct. 1, 2007, and must be federal direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans, graduate or professional direct PLUS loans or direct consolidation loans not linked to parent PLUS loans.
Data from the 2011-12 school year provided by the National Center for Education Statistics show 70 percent of Ithaca College students received federal loans.
Freshman Rebecca Long said the program is a positive for when she graduates in three years.
“Personally, I think Obama’s new bill will probably give me a better chance, especially as an independent, to pay back my college loans in a more reasonable amount of time based on my financial situation,” Long said.
Estimates from the Project on Student Debt show that a 2012 graduate will end up with $26,600 in college debt and a starting salary of $25,000. According to the Project on Student Debt, about two-thirds of the national Class of 2011 is in debt.
Junior Stephanie Lemmons said Pay as You Earn will help her and her siblings.
“For the most part, [the program] is a benefit for students who have taken out federal aid that are thinking about the mountains of debt they’re going to have when they graduate,” Lemmons said.
Lisa Hoskey, director of student financial services at Ithaca College, said anything to make loan repayment more manageable is a good thing, but students should consider short and long-term effects of “Pay as You Earn.”
“Short-term, if you need to use it for a year or two after you’re out of school, that’s one thing,” Hoskey said. “But if you’re looking to go out to the 20-year cancellation mark, anything that you get forgiven after 20 years gets counted as taxable income, so it could inflate your income taxes for that year. You just need to be aware of the trade-offs.”
Since most payments will be set as low as possible, interest keeps growing and borrowers will end up paying more than what they would have originally owed compared to a standard 10-year repayment plan and must submit documentation each year.
Lemmons said the loan repayment plan may lead to making higher education affordable.
“We have this great program now that after 20 years, you’re forgiven. Maybe having this [program] or working toward making private education more affordable could be a positive that comes out of this.”
The Department of Education said it has developed web applications, such as the Financial Awareness Counseling Tool, to help borrowers “make responsible financing and repayment decisions” and “better understand their loan obligations.”
After the State of the Union address, the Obama administration released a College Scorecard, allowing students and parents to know which institutions will be worth the “bang for [their] educational buck.”
According to the College Scorecard, 3.2 percent of Ithaca College graduates defaulted on their federal loans within three years of beginning repayment. The national average is 13.4 percent.
Obama said his new reforms and proposals will allow all students to be able to afford a college education.
“Taxpayers can’t keep on subsidizing higher and higher and higher costs for higher education,” Obama said. “Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure that they do.”