Pushing for a Federal Perkins Loan Program extension

The Gap between the expiration and reauthorization of the loan program will disrupt many students’ tuition payment methods


Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

Over 400,000 students are affected by the Federal Perkins Loan Program, the University of Wisconsin System Student Rep’s press release stated. The program expired on Sept. 30, 2017.

Student government leaders are advocating for an extension of a student-loan program that awarded UW-Eau Claire students $2.2 million in aid during the 2016-2017 academic school year.

The Federal Perkins Loan Program provided low-interest rate loans for students in financial need for over 50 years. It expired on Sept. 30, 2017, when Congress failed to renew the program.

“Elimination of this program will take 25.4 million dollars out of the pockets of UW-System students who need assistance the most, while tying the hands of financial aid offices throughout the state by not providing a responsible replacement,” a Jan. 30, 2018 UW-System Student Representatives press release reads.

The program impacts 13,672 students in Wisconsin, 900 of which attend UW-Eau Claire. Students who applied for the loan before Oct. 1, 2017 will receive funding for the spring.

“It’s hitting close to home,” Nick Webber, Student Body Vice President at Eau Claire,  said. “It’s frustrating, but the best thing that we can do is keep the pressure on; keep letting them know how much it means to students and to families.”

Joined by Student Body President Katy McGarry and other student leaders, Webber traveled to Washington D.C. over winter break to advocate for the Perkins Loan Extension Act of 2017.

If passed, the Perkins Loan Extension Act would continue the program until 2019.

“Providing a two year extension of the program is a commonsense step towards ensuring access to this vital tool for making college more affordable,” Mark Pocan (D-WI), a supporter of the extension act, said.

In addition to being Student Body Vice President, Webber serves as the governmental relations director of the UW System Student Reps. He said his position has given him a direct line to Congress’s ears.

“I’ve been in contact with Congressional offices almost every single day,” Webber said.

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (a larger bill that will restructure student loan programs) is causing Congressional gridlock, Webber said. This is concerning for students who depend on the Perkins Loan Program, because until reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, there is a lapse in loan programs available for low-income students.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have drafted a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act nicknamed the PROSPER Act. The bill includes plans for restructuring federal student loan programs.

In the meantime, students who utilize the Perkins Loan Program will have to find an alternative way to help pay their tuition.

Nikki Andrews, the interim director of financial aid at Blugold Central, sees the first-hand results of the program’s expiration.

“We’ve already started to feel the effects of Perkins this spring,” Andrews said. “We don’t have anything that can fill of the gap of Perkins.”

Without the Perkins Loan Program, students will have to rely on private loans, which often have higher interest rates.

During the reauthorization process, Andrews said she will remain hopeful that federal loan programs will not be pushed to the wayside.

“We want to do whatever we can to keep students in school,” Andrews said.

Webber said the voices of students who are not a part of student government are equally as important as students who are directly lobbying. In addition to contacting representatives directly by phone, he suggested using social media as a platform.

“Tell your story to anyone who’s going to listen,” Webber said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”