AUSIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Tuition and fees at most community colleges these days are pretty reasonable. But according to a new report, nearly a million students who do need help covering the cost don't have access to federal student loans. NPR's Claudio Sanchez explains why.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: The Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit advocacy group based in California, found that community colleges students in at least 30 states cannot get federal loans. That's because the schools they attend don't participate in the program. Tuition and fees at most of these schools can be pretty low - about $3,500 a year. But the total cost for full-time community college students can go as high as $15,000. For many of those students it's impossible to stay in school without borrowing, and Debbie Cochrane, the author of the report, says...
DEBBIE COCHRANE: So, for those who do need to borrow, federal student loans are undoubtedly the safest, most affordable option.
SANCHEZ: But they're not an option at 237 community colleges across the country. The reason...
DAVID BAIME: The primary concern of the Institution's presidents on balance is the severe consequence of student loan default.
SANCHEZ: David Baime is with the American Association of Community Colleges.
BAIME: And it's very disturbing, but it is a fact that over 1 out of every 5 of our students defaults on a federal student loan within three years of entering repayment.
SANCHEZ: That's a problem for some community colleges because any school with a 30 to 40 percent default rate or worse can be banned entirely from the federal student aid program, which could mean losing access to other federal help they depend on like Pell grants, scholarships and work-study programs. So, the logic goes, why risk losing those programs when most community college students don't need federal loans to begin with? But Debbie Cochrane of the Institute for College Access and Success says that's not a good enough reason for not offering students federal loans as an option, especially when it's mostly black, Latino and Native American students who are losing out.
COCHRANE: And in some of the states it's quite extreme. You know, Alabama - 63.7 percent of African-American students lack access.
SANCHEZ: In Tennessee, nearly 60 percent of low-income black students attend community colleges that do not offer student loans. In Alaska, it's 60 percent of low-income Native American students who don't have access.
BAIME: Low-income and minority students are precisely the students who are most at risk of defaulting on student loans in general.
SANCHEZ: Again, David Baime.
BAIME: Giving students loans - while critical for many of our students to finance their educations, the consequences of default are so significant and long-lasting, they are, in fact, a double-edged sword.
SANCHEZ: And as long as that's the case, Baime says, hundreds of community colleges will stay out of the federal student loan program. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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