April 12, 2013

Students push for University no-loan policy

Student leaders of the Southside Solidarity Network (SSN) are lobbying administrators and rallying student support to enact a no-loan financial aid policy at the University by the 2014–2015 school year.

The University’s Odyssey Scholarships replace loans with grants for families who make less than $75,000 a year. For the remainder of students receiving financial aid, a combination of parent contribution, student contribution, work-study funds, grants, and University-guaranteed loans cover their tuition costs.

Other universities, like Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford, already have no-loan policies in place for all students. Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, institutions with endowments similar to that of the University’s $6.57 billion also have no-loan policies.

“If the University is unable to offer competitive financial aid packages to incoming students, the University may start losing students whose college choice must take financing into account,” second-year SSN member Brianna Tong said.

Third-year Aija Nemer-Aanerud, the former coordinator of SSN, pointed out the dual pitfalls of borrowing loans to pay for college.

“Students are taking on mountains of debt with the expectation that [attending college] is their best shot at finding a good job when they graduate,” she said in an e-mail. “Then there are still no jobs in sight.”

SSN has met with several University administrators in the past. On April 17, they have a meeting with Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid James Nondorf and Executive Director for College Aid, according to Nemer-Aanerud.

“We have a few goals for these meetings,” she said. “One, and probably the biggest, is to make it clear to anyone who’s listening that students won’t take a backseat any longer and watch as decisions are made for us. Rather, we want to be involved in shaping the choices that affect us, such as how our universities handle their budgets.”

SSN, along with similar groups from the University of Illinois at Chicago, North Park University, Loyola University, and DePaul University, is one of several groups hosting a community meeting entitled “Our Future, Our Voice: Fighting Back Against Student Debt” at the Chicago Temple, located in the Loop, on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Students and community members will likely be in attendance, as well as several University administrators who will be publicly announcing their support for the platform, Tong said.

Ultimately, Tong hopes the campaign will expand to the national level.

“The government does not care right now about keeping college affordable,” she said. “Such a campaign will require some structural and fundamental changes to how education works in this country.”

“We’ve been sold a faulty bill of goods, and it’s time we take control of our futures and fight for a system that will work for us.”