Owing to a serious misconception, almost half of college students recently polled believe they won’t be saddled with student loans soon after graduation.
According to a survey of 500 current college students conducted by LendEDU, a private firm that connects students and their families with student loans and loan refinancing, 49.8 percent believe they would be able to receive federal forgiveness on their student loans after graduation.
This belief is hardly justified, given the limited circumstances in which these loans can actually be forgiven.
The US Department of Education says that federal direct student loan borrowers can get off the hook if they enter public service jobs for a specified period of time, agree to teach in an underserved area, die or become permanently disabled, or if the school they attended shuts down while they are enrolled or within 120 days after they leave.
“The biggest exemption is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and very few students go into public service,“ said Nate Matherson, who co-founded LendEDU in 2014.
“With maybe 14 percent of the American workforce in a public service job, the actual numbers of those who may qualify for student loan forgiveness or discharge is maybe below 10 percent.
“The fact that many students do not understand this means that they may be significantly underestimating the cost of financing a college education,” he added.
Many students polled said they would rely on financial aid to make up the difference in reduced debt load. So while 90 percent knew of FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), 84 percent did not know the correct filing deadline for the application.
Mark Stephens is financial aid director at Pace University, where the “sticker price” annual tuition is $42,354 for the 2017-18 academic year, a figure that he says is on the average “about 50 percent discounted” through a combination of gift scholarships, other freebies like Pell Grants, and loans.
Given the high degree of dependence today’s students have on this aid, he said he and other financial aid professionals are aware of the need to make sure students and their families understand how the process works.
He said Pace conducts 25 or 30 financial aid workshops in high schools each year as well as online tutorials.
“It’s not very realistic at all to expect loan forgiveness,” he said. “We try to tell students to understand your loan and manage your spending.”
“Generally students are pretty well aware about financial aid by the time they come,” says MJ Knoll-Finn, vice president for enrollment management at NYU, where 2017-2018 tuition and fees before financial aid come to $49,062. “There’s a lot of information out there for students.”
“We consider college an investment,” Knoll-Finn said. “We want them to go into this with their eyes open. We always say ‘take out only those loans you think you can pay back.’ ”