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Tuesday, Jul 10 2012 11:08 PM

Bakersfield College must continue to offer federal loans

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    Emily Kinner

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By EMILY KINNER

On June 18, Bakersfield College announced that it will no longer offer students the opportunity to apply for federal student loans beginning with the 2013-14 academic year. Doing away with access to federal loans would be detrimental to Bakersfield College students who need access to resources that enable them to attend and succeed in college. If this decision stands, $6.3 million will be taken from area students who use federal loans to better their own lives, as well as the greater Bakersfield community and its economy.

Although community college fees are relatively low at $46 per unit, total college costs -- including room, board, books and supplies -- can exceed $17,000 a year, even for a part-time student. Whether at community, state or private college, students with financial need must have access to stable, affordable financial aid, and federal loans are the safest, most affordable form of borrowing for those whose grants, savings and family contributions fall short. Unlike riskier forms of debt -- such as private loans or credit cards -- federal loans offer consumer protections, including fixed interest rates and income-based repayment. They also allow students to attend college without being forced to work excessive hours, cut back on courses, or drop out altogether. In other words, colleges that choose to stop offering federal loans leave students with shaky and often heavily burdensome alternatives that can stop them in their tracks.

Bakersfield College says it is choosing to stop offering federal loans to protect access, not reduce it. Its concern is that schools with too many borrowers who can't pay back their loans may lose the ability to offer future students loans and grants. But, the truth is that BC's access to aid is not in jeopardy. Since so few BC students take out loans, the college would not be penalized. We know Bakersfield College wants what is best for its students, but failing to offer federal loans will reduce access and success, not protect it.

Bakersfield College students know just how important federal loans are to completing their education and succeeding in the workforce. Samantha Imhoof-Tran told Bakersfield's NBC affiliate, KGET, that a federal loan not only enabled her to go to college, it is helping her graduate from BC early. "That's what paid for a lot of things I needed. If I didn't have it, I wouldn't have been able to go to school." And The Californian reported that BC student Jessica Moore "took out a $4,000 federal student loan last semester, and plans to take out another $4,000 next semester to pay for her studies. She's glad, she said, she won't have to go through private lenders, but worries for her friends who may have to."

On Thursday, the fate of federal student loans at Bakersfield College will come before the Kern Community College District board of trustees. We hope the board will consider carefully the profound impact doing away with federal loans will have on students and we urge members to vote to maintain access.

Bakersfield College is not at risk of sanctions, and choosing not to offer federal loans will reduce students' access and success by forcing them to slow progress towards a credential or drop out altogether. Providing access to this safest, most affordable and stable form of financing will help BC students reach their academic goals, and in turn boost Bakersfield's economy as its educated workforce grows.

Emily Kinner served as student trustee for the 2011-12 Foothill-De Anza Community College District and is currently president of the California Community College Association of Student Trustees and a Rapapport intern at the De Anza Institute for Community and Civic Engagement. Rich Copenhagen, her co-author, is president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.

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