Survey: students depend on loans

by Beth Hornby

Students are increasingly dependent on student loans to attend college, according to a nationwide survey released Wednesday.

The Coalition for Better Student Loans said the results show two-thirds of students or their family members currently depend on federal loans to pay college expenses.

As a result, said Jim Boyle, president of the Association for College Parents of America, the coalition is pushing for an increase in the maximum amount of federally funded loans undergraduate students can withdraw.

“The maximum loan amount has not been adjusted for inflation,” Boyle said. “It has been static since 1992.”

The current limit for undergraduates is $18,500, but Boyle said that number should be $30,000.

John Brandl, an expert in state finance and education policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the federal budget can only stretch so far.

“It’s unfortunate, but in terms of the federal budget, there is an uphill fight where education is often second to medical care and other pressing issues.”

But Boyle said the coalition will push for the increase. About 80 percent of undergraduate students have maxed out the amount of federal student loans available to them, he said.

Ryan Preusse, a kinesiology student, said he would benefit from federal loans.

“I can’t start paying back my loans yet, but I would take as much money as the federal government could give me,” he said.

Despite working 30 hours a week and taking 12 credits, Preusse said he will graduate with a $40,000 student loan debt.

Others, however, said they were not concerned with an increased federal loan amount.

Journalism student Kristin Frey said she holds three jobs and considers herself lucky because she doesn’t have any loans.

“I work 30 hours a week just to pay for groceries and those $80 textbooks,” she said.

She added that while she has family helping her pay tuition, working less would ease her stress level.

“I just know that I would be way less stressed out if I didn’t have to work so much,” she said.

Boyle said the coalition is also concerned low-income students will work more, and their grades will suffer.

The report found the cost of tuition is not deterring students from attending college, and that the projected undergraduate enrollment will increase from 13.2 million this year to 15.2 million by 2012.

Boyle said this trend makes it even more important for federal loans to be available and adequate for student need.

“I am involved with the coalition because I want to help families – especially low-income and first-generation university families,” Boyle said.