The College Board,Guest Posting in its annual “Trends in Student Aid” report, estimates that a total of $154.5 billion in student financial aid was distributed in 2009–10. Grants now comprise about 50 percent of student financial aid from all sources, both federal and private sector.
In 2009–10, the average undergraduate student financial aid package was worth nearly $11,500. This figure includes more than $6,000 in grants and more than $4,800 in government-backed federal student loans. Graduate students received slightly more financial assistance, on average, in the form of grants — nearly $6,400 — but also borrowed more heavily. The average graduate student took out more than $15,700 in graduate student loans.
Compared to student financial aid figures for 2008–09, grant aid to undergraduate students increased by 22 percent, while federal student loans increased by 9 percent. The 2009–10 academic year also saw a 16-percent increase in the average federal Pell Grant award to $3,656, the largest one-year rise in the program’s history. Only about one-fourth of all Pell Grant recipients, however, qualified for the maximum grant amount of $5,350.
Private student loans — college loans issued by private lenders rather than by the federal government — represented about 8 percent of all student loans in 2009–10, a decrease from 25 percent in 2006–07.
Federal subsidized Stafford student loans made up about 35 percent of all student loans in 2009–10, an increase from 31 percent in 2006–07. Unsubsidized federal Stafford student loans accounted for 42 percent of the combined federal and private student loans taken out in 2009–10, an increase of about 12 percent from 2006–07.
Subsidized Stafford loans, which are available only to students who demonstrate financial need, are government-backed college loans on which the government will pay the interest while the student is in school or in a period of approved deferred payments. Unsubsidized Stafford loans are available to students regardless of financial need. Although students, as on a subsidized loan, may defer payments on a federal unsubsidized college loan while they’re in school or in certain other authorized circumstances, the student, not the government, will be responsible for paying all the interest that accrues on an unsubsidized loan during those periods of deferment.
According to the College Board, about 65 percent of all undergraduate students in 2009–10 did not accept Stafford loans of any type. The majority of students who did accept Stafford college loans ended up taking out both subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. The average Stafford student loan debt load in 2009–10 was $6,550.
In 2008, Congress authorized increases in the maximum annual and lifetime federal lending limits for Stafford student loans. The expanded loan amounts were approved in part to discourage students from taking on the burden of private student loans, which tend to carry higher interest rates and fewer borrower protections than federal student loans.
Currently, dependent undergraduate students can borrow up to a maximum of $31,000 in Stafford college loans throughout their undergraduate college career. Independent undergraduates, as well as dependent undergraduates whose parents do not qualify for a federal parent loan, can borrow up to a maximum of $57,500 in Stafford college loans.
Graduate students may also be awarded both subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford student loans, up to $20,500 a year and up to a total lifetime maximum of $138,500, including both their undergraduate and graduate Stafford loans.
Graduate students may obtain additional student loan funds through the federal Grad PLUS graduate student loan program. However, whereas Stafford student loans don’t require either a credit check or a co-signer, Grad PLUS loans have modest credit requirements. Even so, the number of graduate loans issued through the Grad PLUS program has steadily increased since Congress introduced the program in 2006–07. About 5 percent of all student loans issued in 2009–10 were Grad PLUS graduate student loans.
In contrast to federal student loans, federal parent loans, known as PLUS loans, are being used less frequently, with 20 percent fewer parent loans issued through the PLUS program in both 2008–09 and 2009–10 than in previous years. The volume of federal parent loans peaked at 11 percent in 2004–05 and 2005–06.
Since PLUS loans, unlike Stafford loans, are credit-based loans, one reason for the decline in PLUS loan volume may be that the number of parents who qualify for a PLUS loan has dropped due to the recession. Under current PLUS loan guidelines, parents who are more than 90 days past due on at least one bill or who have declared personal bankruptcy or been subject to a foreclosure proceeding within the last five years do not qualify for parent loans through the PLUS program.
Read the full report from the College Board: “Trends in Student Financial Aid 2010”