Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Higher Education; FSCJ Sets Ceiling for Student Debt Federal Loans Could Be Denied to Those off Track and Indebted

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Higher Education; FSCJ Sets Ceiling for Student Debt Federal Loans Could Be Denied to Those off Track and Indebted

Article excerpt

Byline: Kate Howard

Students who have fallen behind academically at Florida State College at Jacksonville and have high levels of debt could be turned down for federal loans they otherwise qualify for.

A rule passed by the college's board of trustees last week set a ceiling for indebtedness: $12,000 for a dependent student or $20,000 for an independent student seeking an associate's degree; double those numbers for students in a bachelor's degree program. Anyone who has surpassed those limits in federal student loans - and is also off track for degree completion - would be referred to loan counseling. On a case-by-case basis, those students could face a reduction or outright denial of federal loans through the college's use of "professional judgment."

"We don't want students to graduate with massive debt loads," said college President Steven Wallace. "Many of them come here with debt already, and there are temptations along the way."

The college would only reject loans in extreme situations, Wallace said, and they would never use the option on a student who was close to completing a degree. He also said that denial of federal loans wouldn't prevent students from enrolling.

It's a decision that appears unusual among colleges but could be part of a growing trend to compensate for rising default rates among students by discouraging unnecessary debt, said Beth Guerard, spokeswoman for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

"There is a renewed effort taking place ... to prevent students from taking on unnecessary debt at a time when colleges are seeing higher enrollment, increased average student debt levels and growing student-loan default rates, especially among students at two-year schools," Guerard said.

'PROFESSIONAL JUDGMENT'

Wallace's recommendation to enact a professional judgment rule passed unanimously after a brief discussion among trustees about whether they'd be inadvertently driving students to for-profit or proprietary schools.

Wallace told the board that the amount of student loans taken by FSCJ students has more than doubled since 2007, suggesting that many are compensating for the recession with loans they may not be able to pay back.

While tuition runs about $2,500 a year, many students use federal loans to cover the cost of books and living expenses, said Steve Bowers, vice president of administrative services.

"Before this, even if they were doing something we think is foolish and they think is foolish, we couldn't stop it," Bowers said.

He couldn't say how many students may be affected but estimated that about 10 percent of FSCJ's students are over the newly implemented debt limits. …

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