Many college financial aid departments engage in the process known as â€śgapping,â€ť where there is a gap between what a family can afford to pay for higher education and what the college offers that family in terms of financial aid. To combat this process, many parents turn to Parent PLUS loans, which can be borrowed up to the amount of tuition and offer a seemingly simple solution.
When parents apply for PLUS loans, the government checks credit history, but doesn’t asses whether or not parents have the ability to pay back these loans. Because PLUS loans are easy to apply for and there is a much higher cap on the amount one is able to borrow, it is not uncommon to find parents who become saddled with more debt than they can handle.
The government has recently been cracking down on the requirements for parent PLUS loan eligibility, according to Inside Higher Ed, and as a result the amount of parents taking out PLUS loans has dipped. This statistic is exemplified by GW, where the number of PLUS loan recipients was 784 in 2011, down from a high of 1439 in 2005. But while the number of parents taking out these loans has dipped, the amount in loans has continued to increase. In GW’s case, the average amount borrowed on a PLUS loan in 2000 was $13,169, and has jumped to $23,125 in 2009.
Parents who take out PLUS loans, often so their children can attend the school of their dreams, have been reprimanded by critics who brand these parents as irresponsible and offer little sympathy; many respond apathetically to cases where parents have had to file for bankruptcy or defaulted simply because ‘they didn’t have to take out these exorbitant loans to fund their child’s expensive education.’ Some dismissively remark that parents who can’t afford college should either send their kids to community college or leave children to pay for their higher education themselves.
What these critics fail to understand in their ignorant and short-sighted comments is that if only well-endowed students went to the more expensive universities â€”where part of the reason for the large tuition includes the employment and networking opportunities made possible by a university’s location, endowment, or alumniâ€”how could America call itself a land of equal opportunity? Higher education would be giving the veritable finger to any family without a quarter of a million dollars to simply hand over when the time comes.
Yes, some universities are more expensive than others, which means that parents who, with their children, agree on a more expensive university will therefore be shelling out more money to achieve that higher education. Do they have to choose these universities? Not necessarily, but this is where critics often stop and refuse to see the implications of the larger problem here: Parents who take out PLUS loans to fund their child’s education and potentially throw themselves into the hole are doing so because of a belief in the value of of an accessible higher education, which shouldn’t discriminate based on a family’s ability to pay. These families are going against the current, defying the convention that higher tuition universities are reserved for those who can pay out of pocket.
These days, when higher education debt is addressed, many focus on the debt that is incurred by the students, but many forget about the debt taken on by our parents, by those who sacrifice to provide for the education their child finds is the right fit for them. For just as many students and working adults who are plagued by student debt today, it is becoming increasingly ap-parent that it is affecting our loved ones too. When will we have gone too far?