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College students discuss financial aid concerns with Mikulski

September 14, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - After four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Anthony DelSignore worked in the business world for a short time.

The Frederick, Md., resident decided to switch course and enrolled at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, where he is pursing a masters of arts in teaching.

While DelSignore, 27, says he found teaching to be the best fit for him, he also found that financial aid opportunities for him did not exist.

"There seems to me not to be any financial aid, any help for middle-income families," he said during a Thursday discussion with U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and other University System of Maryland students. "Loans aren't good options for me. I'm going to have to pay them back."

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Many of the students said they were going into the nursing or teaching fields and would not be able to pay off their loans quickly.

"For the next 20 years, I will be paying off my undergraduate loan," said Liz Rohrer, 23, of Sharpsburg.

She is enrolled in the Hagerstown campus' masters of arts in teaching program.

Mikulski told the students that recently passed legislation might help them pay for their education. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act includes about $20 billion in college aid benefits that go directly to students, she said.

Among other things the legislation increases Pell grants, reduces interest rates on student loans, offers loan forgiveness and loan deferment, and includes some scholarship opportunities, Mikulski said.

Linda Farnum, 47, of Hagerstown, said she returned to college 23 years after receiving her undergraduate degree. She has three children and said she's spending her son's college fund to attend the University of Maryland System at Hagerstown. She is enrolled in the masters of arts in teaching program through Frostburg State University.

"The problem with all of the financial aid is that it's designed for undergrads and those living with their parents," she said.

Farnum said she also was eligible mostly for unsubsidized loans.

Danielle Dwinnells, 29, of Smithsburg, said she also was only offered loans.

"I did not qualify for federal scholarships," she said. "I feel like I was only offered loans."

Mikulski said those problems were "fixable," and she said that additional legislation was possible.

"We have to look at our student assistance like a piece of Swiss cheese," she said. "It's very good, but it's got a lot of holes in it."

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