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Students are leaving historically black colleges and universities after changes to federal loan policy

Published: Wednesday, May 8 2013 2:14 p.m. MDT

The federal government has made efforts to address the student loan crisis by offering repayment assistance plans such as Income-Based Repayment plan and Pay as You Earn. However, there are still many groups of borrowers stranded without help.

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Large numbers of students are leaving the nation's historically black colleges and universities because of a change in the federal education loan policy that created a gap in their financial aid, the The Washington Post reports.

The 2011 change to the Parent Plus loan program disqualified borrowers with unpaid debts over the past five years that had been referred to collections agencies or were uncollectable.

Since February, parents of about 28,000 students at historically black colleges and universities have been denied PLUS loans, the story said. Across all U.S. schools and students, the tougher credit rule has resulted in 400,000 PLUS loan denials. About 80 percent of U.S. students who lost out on the loans are able to attend college anyway, the story said. But, equal opportunity advocates are concerned because hundreds of students at black colleges have had to go home because they could no longer afford college.

Changes to the Parent Plus loan program came after criticisms that the loans were too easy to get, and too hard to get out of, a Chronicle of Higher Education story said. Although credit history is examined before the loans are issued, there is no income check, no employment check and no check on other debts such as mortgages, car loans or other student loans. And, Parent Plus loans can't be discharged through bankruptcy.

"The loans are both remarkably easy to get and nearly impossible to get out from under for families who’ve overreached," the Chronicle story said, noting that 20 percent of Parent Plus loan recipients have household income of $50,000 or less.

Unlike other federal student loans, there is no lending cap on PLUS loans. Colleges often steer parents toward the loans with no consideration as to whether they can afford them. And, the government can seize tax refunds and garnish wages or Social Security payments if a PLUS loan is in default, according to the Chronicle.

Mark Kantrowitz of finaid.org told the Huffington Post that the changes to the Parent Plus program are targeting the wrong people, though. The credit checks won't stop people from overborrowing, but could preclude borrowers who once fell behind on a debt, but now "pose little credit risk," he said.

"Kantrowitz believes that the student-loan system is in need of much broader solutions," the story said. "The current federal loan limits for undergraduates are arbitrary, he says, and not based on the type of program or a student's estimated future earnings. More grant money could also help alleviate overborrowing, especially for low-income families."

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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