Loss of subsidized loans could cost grads thousands

By Gus Bode

As Marnie Glazier closed the door to her gray minivan, she told her 13-year-old son, “It will only be a minute.”

But as the SIU graduate student in speech communication stepped quickly through the market’s doors to the wine section, she didn’t reach for the first bottle she saw. She paused to check prices.

The checkout line wasn’t Glazier’s last stop Tuesday evening. She drove to her friend and fellow student Gabriela Ponce’s apartment. Ponce had been watching Glazier’s youngest son while she attended a meeting at school that night. Glazier took a seat, a deep breath and then smiled as her friends encouraged her to try some homemade salsa.


“We can’t stay long, we’ve all got school in the morning,” she said.

Outside of watching the clock, Glazier didn’t seem to be plagued with worries. However, choices such as who will watch her children or what wine to buy may come with greater consideration in the future.

It is students such as she who will be affected by recent legislation that will add to graduate school costs.

According to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was passed by Congress Aug. 1, graduate students will no longer be able to take out federal subsidized interest loans after July 1. As a result, those students will have to pay interest on all of their federal loans, which could cost some students several thousand dollars.

The legislation will save $21.6 billion during the next 10 years, according to information from the Congressional Budget Office website. That money will help fund Pell Grants, which assist undergraduate students, according to the website.

According to an article published by CNN, the most a graduate student in the U.S. can borrow from the federal government is $20,500 a year, $8,500 of which can be from subsidized loans.

By the time graduate students achieve their master’s degree, they can have up to $65,500 of subsidized loans. A student who borrows that maximum would owe an extra $207 a month for interest during a 10-year period, according to the website.


Carl Bloom, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council at SIUC, said he is concerned about how the changes will impact SIU students.

“I do talk to students who are concerned, and the solution for people now is to finish as quickly as possible,” he said.

Finishing soon is a concern for Glazier, who said she hopes to graduate in the spring before the change.

“It could still affect us, though, because my husband may have to take out unsubsidized loans,” she said. “He will still have another year of school after it changes.”

Nearly half of many students’ loans can be subsidized, Bloom said. He said some students try to take out fewer loans to avoid debt upon graduation, but that hasn’t prevented many others from depending mostly on loans.

“I think there is this tendency now just to borrow and borrow, and I think it’s a real problem,” he said.

The elimination of subsidized loans may be one of many nationwide cost-caving incentives, but Bloom said the legislation may have originated from instances where students would misuse loan money.

“There’s one case of this woman, she was going to Japan and other countries on the basis of research, but in fact all she was doing was taking student loan money,” he said. “She ran up something like $50,000 worth of student loan debt and then turned around and said ‘I don’t have a job’ and just sort of quit school.”

Because of the few highly-publicized cases that Bloom said have made a bad impression of graduate students on the public, many others will end up paying the cost. He said the federal government has come to perceive graduate students to be unable to repay loans, and as a result decided to move the money to undergraduate financial aid.

“They wanted to put more money into Pell Grants,” he said. “And in order to put more money into Pell Grants, they took this away from graduate students. In a sense, what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to shift more money from graduate students to undergraduate.”

Bloom said undergraduate students may be just as likely to struggle with repaying loans.

“I think it’s sort of a plague among undergraduates who borrow money and then sort of linger around, you know, spending the money and not finishing their degree,” he said.

Bloom said he isn’t opposed to providing more Pell Grant funding for undergraduate students, but the fact that Pell Grants are distributed to both public and private university students shows cuts could be made from elsewhere outside of the graduate loans.

“I think the taxpayers would appreciate it more if they would try to keep the costs down on public institutions and limit the amount of financial aid that comes from the public sector to students going to private colleges and universities,” he said.

John Koropchak, vice chancellor of research and graduate dean, said the elimination of subsidized loans could affect graduate student enrollment if their finances are squeezed any more.

Koropchak said the university’s graduate student enrollment went down this fall. In 2010, graduate enrollment at public institutions nationwide went down 1.5 percent. He said the decrease may be due to the effects of economic challenges on students before unsubsidized loans’ extra interest gets added to the total amount owed.

“As new stressors are put on people, we have a significant number of students already dealing with paying for their education,” he said. “If the costs for that are rising, that’s going to be an even greater challenge,” he said.

SIU President Glenn Poshard, who recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., said he began to worry more substantial cuts would be made after the subsidized loans were eliminated.

“Every university needs master and Ph.D. students, but they have extraordinary costs and a lot of them have families, which costs them more,” he said.

Poshard said it is important to consider Pell Grants when looking at the legislation. He said 76 percent of SIU students receive some form of financial assistance. Cuts across the country in order to help programs such as the Pell Grant will affect not only current students, but also those considering higher education, he said.

“With the way many families can’t afford an education today, how does a person enter middle class America?” he said. “That’s their meal ticket.”

For families such as the Glaziers who are able to pay for education today, the change in July may not have an immediate impact. For students who depend on unsubsidized loans, however, further challenges may be ahead.