Graduate Students' Costs Set to Jump

Article excerpt

The cost of graduate school rose for more than a million students, including thousands in Pittsburgh, with the nation's debt deal.

Under terms of the $2.4 trillion debt reduction bill signed into law on Tuesday, the government will cease paying interest on federal loans for graduate education while students are in school. That means students must pay interest on those loans while in school or face higher repayment costs after graduation.

Mark Kantrowitz of Cranberry, an author who writes about student aid and has testified before Congress on student aid programs, estimates the change will affect about 1.2 million graduate and professional students -- such as those in medical, veterinary, law and pharmacy schools -- across the country when it takes effect on loans granted after July 1.

This year students could obtain Stafford graduate loans of up to $20,500 a year with interest subsidized for up to $8,500. The maximum available loan amount won't change next year, but interest subsidies won't exist.

"Overall, about one-third of all graduate students have Stafford loans, and when you narrow it down to professional schools, about three-fourths of the students have them," Kantrowitz said. "Because virtually every student defers (interest payments), it can add about 16 percent to the cost of repayment."

Jon Kowalski, a Carnegie Mellon University doctoral candidate who is president of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students, won't feel the sting because he is scheduled to graduate in December. But he doesn't like the message it sends to those "pursuing the kind of education a knowledge-based society needs."

"We realize this is an era of shared sacrifice and everyone's got to give something, but we're worried about the impact this will have on existing students or those considering graduate school," Kowalski said. …