Federal aid programs jeopardized

By Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB — Though interest rates for federal student loans are seeing an increase because of annual fluctuation, other avenues for federal financial aid may see significant change if proposals made by President Donald Trump’s administration are passed.

Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans for undergraduates increased from 3.76 percent to 4.45 percent July 1, while graduate or professional student direct unsubsidized loans increased from 5.31 percent to 6 percent.

Rebecca Babel, student financial aid director, said the changes came as a result of annual fluctuation in the interest rates. For instance, from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, the interest for undergraduate unsubsidized loans was 4.66 percent while graduate or professional degrees was 6.21 percent.

Though this fluctuation occurs on a regular basis, recent proposals made by Trump’s administration to eliminate subsidized federal student loans could be problematic for students who receive federal aid.

“The one I’m most worried about is eliminating [subsidized] loans for students, but those are just proposals,” Babel said.

Graduate accountancy student Brandon Utes said he has received federal loans as an undergraduate and graduate student.

“[Eliminating subsidized federal student loans] would have a great impact on me because I’m funding my education through these loans that I’ll pay back at a later time because I don’t have the cash up front,” Utes said.

A May release of potential reforms under Trump’s administration has some concerned about the future of access to higher education.

One of the most notable proposals is the elimination of the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides need-based help to students who are attending one of the 3,800 post-secondary institutions throughout the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s web page.

Institutions must apply each year for the grant program, and money is then allocated to the institution based on the prior year’s funding and amount of eligible students.

During the spring 2017 semester, 997 NIU students received need-based funding through the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grant, while 5,415 students received Pell grants during the same semester.

Federal Pell grants are usually awarded to undergraduate students and are determined by financial need, part-time or full-time status and attendance costs.

Reduction of the Federal Work-Study Program has also been proposed “to ensure funds go to undergraduate students who would benefit most,” according to Trump’s budget plan.

Work-study-eligible programs listed on NIU’s Student Job Opportunity website include positions as early childhood teachers, visual communications and information technology support.

Additional potential reforms seek to consolidate multiple income-driven repayment plans into one plan that would be capped at 12.5 percent for those with undergraduate degrees and would forgive student loans after 15 years instead of 20 years, according to the U.S, Office of Management and Budget’s 2018/2019 fiscal year plan.

A more immediate change that occurred under former President Barack Obama’s administration is the elimination of the Perkins loan — a low- interest, need-based loan awarded to undergraduate and graduate students — which will take effect Sept. 30.

Babel said students who have created a Perkins loan prior to Sept. 30 will have their loans honored, but no new loans will be made after that date.

“It’s just one more resource students won’t have in the future,” Babel said.