Here’s to Wishin’ to Pay Tuition

By Larryse Brown

In a world ruled by student loans and methods of payment, some people ask what can be done for the outrageous debt students find themselves in before they reach graduate school. Some students fear they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and will be paying off loans for the next 20 years.

Some students’ fears become their reality.

A worst case scenario is that of Michelle Bisutti, who made national headlines in February. The now 41 year old Bisutti finished medical school in 2003 and owed more than $250,000. Since then, the debt has sky rocketed to an incredible $555,000. Bisutti maxed out federal loans before turning to private loans, which is the standard for anyone financing a graduate education. Yet government loans rarely cover the cost of a full year’s tuition. Ultimately, the result of her deferring loan payments while she completed her residency plus interest rates is what landed her in a $500,000 debt. Frighteningly, she followed the typical procedure of financial aid and still ended up with an astronomical half a million dollar debt.

In President Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address, he featured a segment on college tuition becoming more affordable, as he proposes a bill that would increase the Pell Grant, take the unwarranted tax payer subsidies that go to banks for student loans, and give a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college. He also stated that student debt would be forgiven after 20 years, and it will be dropped to 10 years if the graduate should choose to take up a career in Public Service. He ended the speech with “No one should go broke because they choose to go to college”.

But broke continues to be a consistent condition as college students hold their breath in anticipation of such a bill passing.

Delwing Gaines, an academic advisor at Mercy College who once drove students to Albany to meet with the legislators to personally voice their complaints, thinks some college students may not be taking the full initiative to get more of the financial aid that’s available to students. While he welcomes any help that may come, students should be proactive in searching the websites and making the phone calls for a better laid plan of financial aid.

“Financial aid is being cut and the loans are steadily increasing because of it, but there are places available to students so they can get more financial aid; they just have to do the work”.

In truth, the average debt Mercy College students had by May of 2008 was $12,522, which is 42 percent less than most students from New York. However, for the average college senior graduating this year with more than $19,000 in debt, as well as one particular Mercy College student who has already racked up $18,000 and plans to go to attend graduate school, percentages and statistics mean little.

“This is a two way street. They tell us we can have it all as Americans when are entitled to our own American dream if we work hard enough to get it, but they are not helping us reach it,” the student stated, who gave his name as John Andrews. “If college isn’t affordable for everyone, then neither is the idea that we can all reach our full potential.”

The loan credits and forgiveness Obama announced are not entirely new.

When issues were raised regarding financial aid at Mercy College, including unsubsidized loans and Pell, Margaret McGrail, Vice President of Student Services, ventured to give a breakdown of Mercy College’s tuition minus room and board. However it included the full extent of the Pell grant, which is rare.

“Nearly 1,500 students get the maximum Pell,” says McGrail, who added, “Only very needy, very low income students get the maximum from Pell.

“This idea for a bill should be expanded so that the money coming back should go to the people who become teachers or professionals with lower incomes, so money won’t be coming back to doctors making a mill a month,” McGrail commented after being asked about Obama’s thoughts on affordable tuition.

The inevitable annual complaints made by students to Student Services about financial aid, she declares, are not as much because of the school’s new philosophy. She compares and contrasts the “reactive philosophy” student services used to follow as compared to the new and improved “proactive philosophy”.

“The best thing we all can do is to be proactive and always take the next step quickly. Instead of reactive, we’re going to be proactive.”