April 15, 2011

 

 St. George's eligible for U.S. federal loans

 
 

Student retention expected to benefit

posted April 1, 2011 
 

St. George's University School of Veterinary Medicine

Facebook status updates in early February reflected a single collective emotion among students at St. George's University School of Veterinary Medicine—relief.

The 12-year-old veterinary school, located in Grenada, West Indies, had just received word that it was finally able to award qualified U.S. veterinary students with lower-interest federal loans and in-school deferments through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.

St. George's was granted provisional certification for Title IV federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education Feb. 11.

Retroactive to August 2010, students are eligible for a maximum need-based federal direct subsidized Stafford loan of $8,500, a federal direct unsubsidized Stafford loan of $12,000, and a federal direct grad PLUS loan of $31,844, for a total maximum of $52,344.

Institutions newly approved by the DOE are initially certified on an interim basis. The veterinary school has a year to demonstrate that it satisfies federal standards related to financial stability and administrative capability before the certification can be made permanent.

"We've been working with the Department of Education several years now, and the hard work has paid off. We owe a lot of debt to the chancellor (Charles R. Modica) for working on that," said Dr. Raymond F. Sis, dean of the veterinary school.

The veterinary school first applied for Title IV eligibility when it opened in 1999, but was told it had to graduate two classes first. Veterinary school officials applied again after this milestone, but the DOE didn't act on the application.

A veterinary school or college accredited by their country's accrediting body may apply to participate in the direct loan program if the DOE's National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation determines that their country's accreditation standards are comparable with those of the U.S. In this case, SGU is recognized by the government of Grenada, which reaccredited the veterinary school in 2010. Evidence of accreditation is just one of the eligibility criteria, however, that foreign schools must meet to participate in the direct loan program.

St. George's is now the only foreign veterinary school certified as an eligible institution for the direct loan program that is not accredited by the AVMA Council on Education.

All this means good news not only for students but also for SGU in general. Administrators are hoping that more-affordable loan terms will mean better retention of students.

"Due to the economic downturn over the past few years, it was becoming more and more difficult for many bright and qualified students to obtain affordable loans for the veterinary program. This announcement changes that," Jeffrey Bates, SGU director of veterinary enrollment, said in an SGU press release.

The only private student loan lender previously available to SGU students was Sallie Mae, which has charged high interest rates, particularly in the past few years.

Jolene Kern, a fourth-semester student from Pennsylvania, paid 15 percent interest on her Sallie Mae loan her first semester. Then, in her second and third semesters, the interest rate was 13.5 percent. She also took out loans for her undergraduate education, but those interest rates were lower—only 8 percent.

Kern hopes the federal loans will offer her a better deal, which looks to be the case so far. Interest rates for direct subsidized loans for graduate students are currently 6.8 percent, and rates for direct PLUS loans are 7.9 percent.

Steven Epstein, a sixth-semester student from Charleston, S.C., said the federal funding will make things much easier for students. "Before the school was eligible for federal loans, they were a big issue, and people transferred because of it. I think students are now willing to even come back because of it," he said.

His class started with 85 students and is now down to 64. He said financial issues and the fact that the school isn't accredited by COE were big factors, along with the fact that some students were not able to handle the rigors of veterinary school.

Tuition at St. George's veterinary school isn't out of line with tuition at many of its U.S. counterparts. According to the university, tuition and fees for the nonclinical years are typically $25,200 per academic year, whereas tuition and fees for the clinical year are typically $44,000 per academic year.

Compare that with the mean annual tuition for students at U.S. veterinary schools during the 2010-2011 academic year, which is $40,017 for full-time, out-of-state students and $22,348 for in-state students.

Yet, the cost of living can be higher in Grenada because of the travel costs and the fact that most goods there are imported and, therefore, subject to duty and additional taxes. The university estimates living and travel expenses for students can run $13,000 to $29,000 per year, depending on the distance traveled and the student's style of living.