PHEAA Offers Advice on Cutting College Costs

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Additional years for college completion could have serious financial implications

Harrisburg, PA (February 22, 2012)—The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) advises college-bound students and current college students that tacking on additional years to complete a four-year degree can significantly impact the amount of debt with which they graduate.

Students, on average, now take five years to complete a four-year Bachelor's degree, with some students taking six years or longer for degree completion. The reasons vary. Some students may be taking a double major, studying abroad, completing an internship or playing college sports. These opportunities can enhance their educational experience and make them more marketable when they enter the workforce.

Other times, students simply take a light course load, fail some coursework, change their majors (several times), or place more emphasis on their social life than their academic responsibilities. These factors could extend the time necessary to complete their degrees.

"Students are well aware that college costs continue to rise and they are increasingly concerned about the amount of debt with which they will graduate," said Representative William Adolph, PHEAA Board Chairman. "We want students to realize that there are additional costs that are directly related to not earning their degree in the typical timeframe."

Adding a fifth year to earn their Bachelor's degree increases the cost of their studies by 25 percent, with year five likely costing more than their first year. Available financial aid resources could be impacted in three ways:

  • Loss of institutional aid for the fifth year if the school only funds students for four years.
  • Loss of Pennsylvania State Grant funding, as this program only funds students for four years.
  • Maximum eligibility is $31,000 for undergraduate borrowing in the Direct Stafford Loan program. For example, borrowing the maximum each year, for four years, would total $27,000, leaving just $4,000 for the fifth year (down from $7,500 in year four).

Families often resort to additional borrowing, upon realizing the loss of these funding sources, to pay for the additional year of coursework, therefore, incurring additional debt that must be repaid.

"Students and their families who are considering funding a fifth year of study need to understand the potential loss of thousands of dollars in financial aid they may be facing and to plan ahead," said Senator Wayne D. Fontana, PHEAA Board Vice Chairman.

Students and families are encouraged to visit PHEAA on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/pheaa.aid, where they can view videos of its Higher Education Access Partners offering advice and direction on a variety of topics related to higher education.