The federal Perkins (student) loan program was created in the Eisenhower years to maintain American educational leadership. Perkins Loans were scheduled to end Wednesday. Students who have received loans for the 2015-16 academic year will continue to receive funds until they graduate. However, if the program is not renewed, no new loans will be made. Because current recipients are safe and because future students may not understand the impact of the sunset of the Perkins Loans until it is too late, the outcry has been muted.

According to most recently available figures, 28,282 student are receiving Perkins Loans in Wisconsin, attending both public and private, nonprofit universities. These are real flesh and blood students. They and their families work hard. They are not getting a free ride from their Perkins Loan. These young -- and not so young -- students are our states future leaders.

Perkins Loans are designed to help low-income students achieve their goals for higher education and for careers. Perkins loans do not go to institutions, but to students. However, they are administered by their college or university. Such programs are called campus-based, and the terminology itself has caused confusion.

Colleges and universities match the federal contribution; they have skin in the game. When students repay their loans, the funding is, in turn, loaned to other students with need. The federal dollars are not sitting in vaults somewhere on university campuses.

Some critics have pointed out that students on all campuses across the country are not eligible for Perkins Loans. This is a problem. I believe that low-income students should be empowered to enroll and succeed at whatever college or university is best suited for their success. Students have different talents, skills and abilities -- as well as different aspirations. The federal government should not be treating them like numbers, pigeonholing them or restricting their opportunities.

The solution is not to take these funds away from thousands of students currently benefiting, but to expand the program so all students, regardless of institution, have the opportunity to pursue and achieve their dreams.

Rolf Wegenke is president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities representing the 24 private, nonprofit institutions of higher learning in this state and their nearly 60,000 students.

Regarding Quick loans, big bucks (Sept. 20):

A friend recently had car issues and got a loan from TitleMax. The interest rate was 131 percent and additional fees. I paid the loan for him and we worked out a simple, inexpensive repayment plan.

I am encouraged to hear that some credit unions and churches are finally realizing the impact of these predatory lenders and are making small loans.

I suggest the establishment of microbanks to make small loans to those in need. To provide wide access to these micro-banks, they could be associated with neighborhood churches. These banks could charge a reasonable interest rate and still cover the few bad loans they would grant, and still gradually increase the amount of money they have to loan. The seed money for these microbanks could come from churches and private individuals.

A million-dollar investment in a microbank, based on an average loan of $500, would remove 2,000 people from the grasp of these shylocks. The staff could come from churches and volunteers trained to process the paperwork. Professionals would approve the loans.

Politicians would erect many barriers to the concept of a privately financed and operated microbank, since it would cut into the business of some of their principal contributors, entities like TitleMax. But in the interest of doing the right thing, we must eliminate the loopholes that allow such entities to take advantage by charging usurious loan rates.

JC Hagan  o  Ballwin

It was a great surprise to me, after college graduation, that I was expected to pay back my loan. All the time. Every month. It was not enough to pay it in February and then spend three months congratulating myself. My friends were paying their loans, I realized. Even the ones that I suspected were more irresponsible than me.

This payment had gotten easier. Over the years, the obligation has been like a skin tag in a high-traffic part of my body. Mostly it went unnoticed, but every once in awhile I would nick it and start fantasizing about home surgery. Wielding a box cutter and screaming: "SOMEBODY GET THIS LOAN OFF OF ME."

But it's gone now. The last $14 was lobbed off my life, and I received a congratulatory email from the loan company that seemed light in exclamation points.  

Huzzah! I'm rich!

Christa Lawler is the arts amp; entertainment reporter for the News Tribune. She occasionally writes a column about pop culture -- a broad topic that can include furniture, fitness trackers and sci-fi. Follow her on Twitter @dntane.

The government's new program for canceling student debt, launched in June, looked like a historic win for debtors. A year after troubled for-profit education company Corinthian Colleges collapsed, the Department of Educationopened the first formal pathway for students of its colleges to ask for loan forgiveness.Now a group of Democrats in Congress is charging that the Department of Educationhas taken too long to refund the debt and has made it unlikely that most students will get relief.

"It has been three months since the Department of Education said it would create a debt-relief process but we have seen almost no progress,"said RepresentativeJanice Hahn (D-Calif.), one of 17 House Democrats who signed a letter to Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday. The Democrats said the department should be canceling billions in student loans automatically, whether or not graduates seek it.

The department recently appointed Joseph Smith, who monitored banks' compliance with the $25 billion mortgage settlement following the foreclosure crisis, to guide the distribution of relief to student debtors who took out loans to attend one of three Corinthian Colleges-owned chains: Everest, Heald, and Wyotech. Corinthian shuttered or sold its collegesamid state investigations into deceptive recruitment practices.Smith said in a September report(PDF) that the department's goal is to create a long-lasting system of loan relief that would help Corinthian grads whilealso applying more broadly to students at all institutions who believe they have been defrauded by their colleges."

A local bank is helping nonprofits left in the lurch by the failure of the state lawmakers to pass a budget.

Dunmore-based Fidelity Deposit amp; Discount Bank is offering loans up to $100,000 interest-free for six months to nonprofits hurt by the state budget delay in Luzerne and Lackawanna County.

It may be free money, but it not necessarily easy money. Borrowers still have to meet the underwriting guidelines of any other commercial loan. After six months, most loans will revert to prime.

"We are trying to fill this financial gap made by the state," said Daniel Santaniello, chief executive officer at Fidelity. "These are agencies that are important to the community. By helping them, we are giving back to the community."

One of those agencies is the Victim's Resource Center based in Wilkes-Barre, providing services for victims of crime and domestic abuse in Luzerne, Carbon and Wyoming counties.

For the last few weeks, the agency saw funding from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime amp; Delinquency and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence dry up. The organization has been on austerity, said Janet MacKay, executive director. Nonvital purchases have been put off, travel curtailed. The agency has negotiated with its three landlords for forbearance and tapped into lines of credit.

"The wonderful thing about what Fidelity is doing is that there is no interest and after that, the loan is at prime," Ms. MacKay said. "It's a blessing to be able to make payroll and not face mounting interest."

But looking down the road, she's not sure what will happen if the state budget impasse extends into December. Most of the center's clients are victims of sexual abuse.

"Our services are 24-hour and crisis oriented - we can't shut down," she said. "If we can't get someone to accompany a rape victim at a hospital, there will be consequences."

Mr. Santaniello is up front about a marketing component to the program. He hopes nonprofits who participate find the bank meets their need and recognizes Fidelity's community-mindedness.

"I'd be lying said we didn't hope to get more customer relationships," Mr. Santaniello said.

Ms. MacKay said Fidelity is not the organization's main bank. Those decision are "up to the board of directors."

Financial institution analyst Bert Ely, based in Alexandria, Virginia, said with banks' cost of funds being so low, and most banks awash in cash, Fidelity's free money won't impact the bank's bottom line the way it might if interest rates were 9 percent. He considers it a novel marketing program, but one that nevertheless does some good.

"I'm sure this nice civic act will be appreciated," he said. "I hope it increases political pressure on state lawmakers who see these entities coming against the wall in a way that the banking industry has to fill in the gap."

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