College students nationwide face an array of options to help pay for college. Some rely on financial aid, some use parent PLUS loans, some use a co-signer and others rely on scholarships or gifted funds.
Regardless of chosen methods, those within the Westminster College community say paying for college tuition often impacts the entire family.
A parent PLUS loan, although a part of the Federal Direct Student Loan Program, is available exclusively to parents or guardians of students pursuing higher education. Although a great option for students themselves, the added debt can become a burden on parents and guardians.
“I am now $70,000 in student loan debt[s] that aren’t even mine, they are my daughter’s,” said Jessica Justiss, parent of a current Westminster student. “I have 70 grand in student loans and didn’t even go to college.”
Justiss said that because the parent PLUS loan that allows her daughter to attend Westminster is in her name, it’s her credit that will be hurt if she can’t repay the debt — not her daughter’s.
“I mean, sure, I could have her pay me the monthly amount once she graduates but that’s a whole other process, and I applied for the loan in order to help her through college,” Justiss said. “I’m not going to make her pay me back for that.”
Stacia Covington, parent of multiple current Westminster students, said she used a parent PLUS loan to help her two daughters through their first year of college. Covington said she was relieved when her students were able to secure scholarships and grants for their second, third and fourth years.
“I am glad the parent PLUS loan was available because it allowed them to live on campus,” Covington said.
However, she said she takes issue with the burden on parents because many families from different socio-economic statuses are unable to afford the loan.
“I think kids should take up the loans, not their parents because not all parents can do it,” Covington said.
She said she is still working toward paying off her daughters’ loans.
Some students approach loans with a co-signer in mind, which means the co-signer’s credit history is taken into account when determining whether the student can take out the loan. However, if the student is unable to pay back the loan, their co-signer must assume the responsibility.
Pam Garvin, grandparent of a current Westminster student, was a co-signer on her granddaughter’s student loans.
“I applied for the loan as a co-signer because at the time my granddaughter’s parents were unable to qualify for any other loans to help her through college,” Garvin said. “It was a difficult decision for me to make, though, because my husband and I are close to retirement and need to keep our debts in check. I am not going to have my granddaughter repay the loan I helped take out, but in applying for the loan, my husband and I have decided not to retire for a few more years, due to the loan debts.”
Scholarships, grants & gifts
Many students may seek out scholarships and grants to supplement the cost of college. Although scholarships are often easy to apply for, they are not a guarantee.
Because of the uncertainty, some students ultimately rely on family members or friends to cover the costs of higher education.
Ryleigh Justiss, a younger daughter of Jessica Justiss and recent high school graduate, said she and her family were ineligible for a parent PLUS loan. Her parents were also unable to co-sign a loan with her because their debt-to-income ratio was too skewed.
Ryleigh said she never got responses from the scholarship and grant programs she had applied to and began to worry.
“I started thinking, well maybe I could just wait to go to college,” Ryleigh said. “Maybe I can go work a full-time job and save money and then go to school, but then I realized if I took a break I probably wouldn’t ever go to college just based on my own work [habits]. I would want an apartment or a new car and saving for college would be put on the back burner, because I still have to progress my life.”
Feeling like she was out of options, Ryleigh began fundraising among her family members. If a friend or relative could pay the school in Ryleigh’s name, no one involved would need to deal with interest rates or further debt accrual.
“Soon after I started asking my family to gift money to my college to help aid me, my grandparents stepped forward and offered to help me out,” Ryleigh said. “I now don’t have to worry about how I will be able to go to college and it also benefits both my grandparents and myself because we both don’t have to pay the college anything [extra]. No interest payments or accrual. Nothing, just paid in full and nobody gets screwed.”