UM, federal officials discuss ideas to reduce college costs

Andrew York hopes to bring better health services to desperately poor Native Americans when he's done earning dual degrees in law and pharmacy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

But he might not be able to afford that modest-paying career path if not for federal programs designed to forgive part of his $65,000 in college loans.

York told his story at a UMB forum Tuesday to discuss federal plans for making college more affordable. The afternoon event featured U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha J. Kanter, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes and students and officials from the university.

All of the speakers said they worry that too many students are making career decisions based on the debt they have to pay off rather than on their passions.

"I don't think any of us wants that to be the way it is," said UMB President Jay Perman.

The cost of college has been in the news for the past week. President Barack Obama discussed it in his State of the Union address last Tuesday and unveiled plans Friday to make federal aid for universities contingent on their efforts to control tuition costs.

Obama's plan prompted nervous reactions from many higher education officials, who say they sometimes have to raise tuition to compensate for drops in state funding.

Tuesday's discussion focused particularly on the government's policy of forgiving federal loans for students who go on to work in public service — for either government agencies or nonprofits. Such service workers are eligible for lower monthly rates, and if they stay in their jobs for 10 years, the balance of their loans can be forgiven entirely.

"The poor actually deserve more care than those who already have access," York said. "The only way to do that is to send our best talent into public service. That's what this is about."

"This can mean thousands of dollars of loan forgiveness," Sarbanes told students. "It's a big opportunity."

Kanter outlined the president's overall plans for reducing college costs, which include making more families eligible for tax credits, increasing funding for work study jobs and maintaining low interest rates on federal Stafford loans.

Obama "wants the American dream to be affordable, so you can do what you love," she told the crowd of students.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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