The numbers are daunting.
About 40 million people in the United States hold student loans – which, with an outstanding debt of approximately $1 trillion, have surpassed credit cards to live as the country’s third largest type of household debt, according to the federal government.
Of those 40 million borrowers, about seven million are in default – and more are behind on their payments. The phrase “student loan bubble” can be heard time and again, from newscaster to college campuses.
For Queens students – and, of course, individuals across the five boroughs – the prospect of paying for college is intimidating. How can someone actually afford to go to college anymore if they don’t have mom and dad to support them financially?
According to officials at Queens College, it turns out it’s not that difficult.
“More and more people need financial aid, no matter how low the tuition is – and we offer one of the lowest tuitions in the country,” said Queens College Assistant Vice President for External and Governmental Relations Jeffrey Rosenstock. “About 46 percent of our students receive some sort of financial aid, and I think that talks a lot to the arch mission of CUNY – to educate those who want an education.”
Rosenstock said the college works closely with students to access different funding paths for them- whether that’s a federal or state grant or other monies. And, this seems to have worked – 80 percent of Queens College pupils graduated debt free in the 2012-13 school year, Rosenstock said. Those who graduated with debt did so with an average of $14,000 – about $10,000 less than the average in New York state.
“Who are we serving?” Rosenstock asked. “Students who deserve to go to college but who may not have the means. We’re part of the CUNY system, which has done an incredible good job to inform elected officials we must keep tuition affordable. A lot of our elected officials came from CUNY and know that.”
(Side bit of trivia: U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, state Sen. Jose Peralta, and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz are all Queens College alumni.)
Queens College’s efforts to address college affordability has also landed the institution often referred to as the jewel in CUNY’s crown national recognition. The Washington Monthly recently ranked Queens College as number two nationwide in its “best bang for the buck” category. Amherst College landed first place.
“Despite a growing applicant pool and increasing selectivity, Queens College has maintained a commitment to admit a student body that reflects the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of its New York City borough,” the Washington Monthly wrote. “To that end, a number of programs at Queens College aim to attract and support minority and low-income students.”
For Queens College student Caitlin King, she opted to transfer to the institution after facing growing debt at at a private college in the city.
“I got a scholarship, but I was still paying a lot of money – tuition was close to $50,000 a year,” King said. “I’m still paying off my loans. Now I’m at Queens College, and I don’t have to take out any loans – I got three scholarships this semester.”
For prospective students now trying to wade through the world of college finances, a financial aid advisor at Queens College suggested filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible. The FAFSA is available on Jan. 1 each year and covers that year’s summer and fall semesters, as well as the following year’s spring semester. Additionally, the advisor recommended visiting www.studentaid.gov, which provides a comprehensive overview of higher education financial aid opportunities.
By Anna Gustafson