Grad students to pay interest on 2012 loans

Courtesy Photo /
Jeffrey Potteiger

Courtesy photo

Courtesy Photo / Jeffrey Potteiger

Dan Spadafora

Under the current system, all federal loans taken out by graduate students are subsidized loans with the interest covered by the government; following July 1, all graduate school federal loans will become unsubsidized with the burden of paying the interest falling on the students.

Jeffery Potteiger, dean of graduate studies at Grand Valley State University, said he is worried about how these changes will affect graduate school enrollment in the future.

“I find it surprising,” he said. “To say that we want to try to get back to the top of education in the world and then to go into this and make it harder for students to financially support themselves, I just find it really surprising that they decided to take this approach.”

Potteiger said the national debt, along with Michigan’s own economic struggles, could shed light onto reasons for this change in graduate student loans.

“I disagree with it, I strongly disagree with it, but I could see why they want to do it,” he said.

With student debt on the rise, along with these changes to federal graduate student loans, Potteiger said students should be looking for alternatives to pay for tuition. These alternatives for graduate students could be anything from scholarships to teaching in the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship or earning teaching or research assistantships.

Students who participate in a graduate assistantship usually get their tuition waived along with a stipend. Students interested in applying for graduate assistantship programs are to apply when they apply for their graduate program.

In the 2010-2011 academic year at GVSU, roughly 1,700 graduate students accepted for the fall, winter and spring semesters took out loans. Currently there are 3,426 graduate students enrolled at GVSU.

Although the total enrollment count for graduate students is far lower than the 21,236 undergraduates currently enrolled at GVSU, Potteiger says graduate students have fewer opportunities for financial assistance compared to their undergraduate counterparts.

Michelle Rhodes, director of the Office of Financial Aid at GVSU, said graduate students are not offered less financial aid, but different financial aid. Rhodes said that including loans, graduate students are offered more financial aid than undergraduates.

“They are at different points in their lives,” she said. “They have already earned a degree so they already have a direction that they are thinking about going. So the options for graduate students are more career-oriented.”

Besides loans, Rhodes advises students to look and apply for scholarships from the GVSU scholarship database where at least 85 are available for graduate students. Rhodes added that students need to apply early for the graduate assistantships because they tend to be very competitive.

However, Potteiger said he would still like to see the government go back to offering subsidized loans.

“It may be at the end of the day that it didn’t have much effect at all and that’s what I’m hoping,” he said. “But still at the end of the day students are going to come out with more debt.”

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