NEWS

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January 6, 2006

Students demand loan options on website

Launched days before Congress voted to slash federal student aid by up to $14.3 billion, a new yearbook-style website called Studentdebtalert.org began urging students to demand more reasonable loan programs.

Unveiled in mid-November, the site listed dozens of students’ financial profiles from about 30 schools, and its sponsors hope it will grow into a forum where thousands share aid woes and demand better loan packages.

After a month of operations, the site had increased to about 130 schools but still did not include the University of Chicago.

The testimonials at Studentdebtalert.org are part of a campaign to put a face on student debt, according to its organizers, the Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Christine Lindstrom, PIRG’s higher education program director, said the goal is to “make sure the student’s voice is injected into the political process.”

On Studentdebtalert.org, testimonials are listed by school and give ballpark estimates of student debt at graduation. They include background information about each student, such as interests, field of study, and year of graduation.

The site is also a platform for students to develop local support for financial aid, including coalitions and letter writing campaigns.

“Student debt is not visible,” Lindstrom said. “There are a myriad of solutions available. The use of loans to pay for college is becoming increasingly common, and it does have consequences.”

The web site is not meant only to help indebted students lobby Congress, Lindstrom said. “If campuses all gave grants, that’s a solution too,” she said.

“Our intention is to give a voice to students and their concerns,” said Lindstrom, adding that students’ aid profiles are unverified.

The website’s goal of alleviating student debt was foiled, at least in the short run, later in November when the House passed a Republican-backed, five-year budget that cuts spending by $50 billion, including $14.3 billion from student aid.

The legislation would add $5,800 to the average college student’s debt, which is currently $17,500, Lindstrom’s organization estimated.

Demographers project 2008 will have the largest high school graduating class ever because of the “echo boom” generation, said Sallie Mae spokesman Tom J. Joyce.

Joyce, whose organization is the largest private lender to students, said that 80 percent of growth in high school graduates comes from minority students-—“the groups that really need financial aid.”