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Students seeking financial aid likely to suffer in market; Lenders suspend or stop service for student loans

By Staff | Sep 17, 2008

This week’s historic crash in the stock market will trickle down to lending institutions across the United States making it harder for people to receive new mortgages or personal loans.

In a time when a record number of high school graduates want to pursue a college degree, some fear the financial crisis could place a roadblock between prospective students and loans.

Financial analysts stated that Monday’s 500 point crash in the Dow Jones industrial average is the worst seen since the days following Sept. 11.

The Associated Press reported that $700 billion was lost from pension funds, retirement plans and investment portfolios, and major lenders filing for bankruptcy left the market uncertain.

On Tuesday, Wall Street reported a gain because of the Federal Reserve’s decision to not decrease rates.

Over the last year certain student loan companies have filed for bankruptcy including the Education Resources Institute in Boston, while a number of other institutions including Bank of America have discontinued student loan services.

FinAid.org, a financial aid Web site, reported Saturday that 134 lenders have stopped issuing student loans or have suspended lending even though many participate in the Family Federal Education Loan Program, or FFELP.

FFELP was created by Congress in 1965 to ensure that students receive guaranteed loans for education backed up by the federal government.

Lending institutions have also cut back on staff. According to FinAid.org, 21 educational lenders have laid off employees resulting in an estimated 6,000 people losing their jobs nationwide.

Tuition, on the other hand, continues to grow at colleges and universities making it difficult for students trying to pay their own way.

Approximately two-thirds of students are graduating college with an average student loan debt of $19,327, according to the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study. In many cases it is impossible for students to attend college without some form of financial aid.

Cindy Lewis, district director of student financial aid at Edison State College, explained that emergency federal legislation passed this summer has protected matriculating students by allowing the U.S. Department of Education to purchase loans directly from a lender.

“Nothing at this point, from what happened (Monday), has affected that. But, in general, we’ve had some of the student lenders go to the private loan market and some have left the government and private loan market,” she said.

Private loans typically meet gaps left by educational loans issued through the government, but these loans are not as highly regulated meaning interest rates can fluctuate throughout the life of the loan.

Lewis explained that 30 percent of the student population at Edison State College receives financial aid, but many lenders discontinued lending at Edison because the school’s programs are shorter in length and cost less.

But, she said, the school continues to deal with six viable, nationally recognized lenders.

“No one has gone without a student loan that wants one,” said Lewis.

Some local high school students are turning to scholarships and other forms of funding to offset any tuition gaps left over from not receiving a specific loan or from their families’ lost income.

With unemployment in Lee County lingering over 8 percent, parents who two or three years ago could have covered the costs of tuition, books and board are now underemployed or unemployed and cannot afford to send their children to school.