The national student loan crisis has not hurt Utah college students: The financial-aid business is booming here, with student loans running millions of dollars ahead of last year.
The last of Utah college students returned to school this week, but the near collapse of the Higher Education Assistance Foundation, the nation's largest guarantor of student loans, has not hindered their efforts in financing their college educations."It is a message we are trying to get out to students in the state: That student loans are available as always. There is no lack of educational credit. The lenders are cooperating. We are millions (of dollars) ahead of last year," said David A. Feitz, assistant higher education commissioner of student financial aid.
In fact, the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority, the state's designated guarantee agency, has hired six temporaries to handle the loan-processing crush that hits each fall.
Feitz said the UHEAA handles two-thirds of the 25,000 to 30,000 loans it makes annually in a 90-day period. The agency works with 40 lenders in the state.
Higher education officials say the UHEAA is financially sound. It has made $580.3 million in student loans since 1978, with $90.5 million made in fiscal year 1990.
Feitz sent memos to the student aid offices at the state's higher-education institutions a month ago, reassuring them that student loans are available.
The students don't appear to be worried. Not a single student has called to ask about the national loan crisis, but a few nervous bankers have contacted His message is always the same: No problems here.
The same isn't true for college students in Kansas, Minnesota and Wyoming. Students there have experienced delays in securing student loans because of the Higher Education Assistance Foundation's financial woes.
The foundation is the primary student-loan guarantor for banks in the District of Columbia, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The UHEAA is Utah's designated guarantee agency. It operates without any subsidy from state funds.
Basically, it works like this: A student applies for one of the several types of low-interest, guaranteed student loans. The designated agency such as HEAF or UHEAA guarantees that the banker will be repaid.
A commercial lender makes the loan and then is repaid by the guarantee agency if a student defaults on the loan. The guarantor can then be fully reimbursed by the federal government unless it operates with a default rate that is too high under federal guidelines.
That's what happened to HEAF. HEAF lost more than $80 million in the last two years because a high proportion of the loans it guaranteed went into default. The federal government would not fully reimburse HEAF.
C. Gail Norris, associate higher-education commissioner for finance, said HEAF's default problems are tied to its high volume - 59 percent - of loans to the high-risk students at for-profit schools.
UHEAA, on the other hand, only has made 8.2 percent of its loans to students at for-profit schools, he said.
HEAF continues to operate. It was pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy with a $200 million loan made by the Student Loan Marketing Association, known as Sallie Mae, a for-profit company chartered by the federal government that makes money available for new student loans by buying older loans from banks.
But HEAF does not operate in Utah. It did have student borrowers here once but hasn't made loans in Utah for at least two years. "It's been a minor player here, $23 million (in loans guaranteed) out of $600 million," Feitz said.