No more student loan debt at College of the Ozarks

Published: Monday, March 18 2013 5:10 p.m. MDT

Students walk on the campus of the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo. Students at College of the Ozarks have been barred from accepting federal student loans since the 1990s. The school will cease certifying private student loans this fall.

Cliff Schiappa, Associated Press

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The College of the Ozarks barred its students from accepting federal student loans in the 1990s. Now, the evangelical Christian college is refusing to certify private student loans too, making it almost impossible to borrow money for college. Students are expected to work, earn scholarships and minimize spending instead, said a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The students have a ready model for following the pay-as-you-go plan. College of the Ozarks does not carry institutional debt, and waits to build facilities until enough money has been saved.

The small liberal arts school recruits good students who have financial need, and provides jobs to help them get through school. Debt avoidance is taught as a matter of principle at College of the Ozarks, a well-rated school that emphasizes character education.

"The mission of this unique institution focuses on providing a Christian education to those who are found worthy but who are without sufficient means to obtain such training," according to the school's website.

There are about 1,350 students at College of the Ozarks, and 250 to 300 currently carry loans, often from hometown banks, the Post-Dispatch story said. To help those students adjust to going loan-free, the school will expand summer work opportunities and freeze room-and-board costs. The new ban on private loans goes into effect at the beginning of fall semester.

Any effort to curb student loan debt is timely. Americans owe about $150 billion in private loan debt, which amounts to 15 percent of all student debt. Government loans make up the larger share of student loan debt, which totaled $1 trillion in 2012 — "more than credit cards, car loans or any other type of consumer debt," a Huffington Post story said.

There are 2.9 million Americans holding private student loans. A 2005 reform law made it impossible to discharge such loans in bankruptcy, except in extremely rare cases.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, told the Huffington Post that the law disallowing bankruptcy for private student loans is overly harsh and "treats students who face financial distress the same way as people who are trying to discharge child support debts, alimony, overdue taxes and criminal fines."

The student loan trap ensnares parents, too, as many private student loans require co-signers. Durbin has tried repeatedly to persuade Congress to change the no-bankruptcy provision for private student loans. His efforts brought stiff opposition from banks. The latest version of a new bill to soften the hard landing faced by private student loan defaulters failed again this year.

At College of the Ozarks, the solution for keeping college students out of debt is to prevent them from getting into it. The school requires that students work 15 hours per week during school semesters and full-time during breaks, with earnings going toward tuition. Those who do so can have the remainder of their tuition paid through donations.

Room and board costs at the school can be earned through a school-sponsored summer work program, said a story in U.S. News.

College of the Ozarks offers other tough-love suggestions for keeping college costs down: enrolling in ROTC, and the hardest one of all — decreasing spending.

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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