Morehouse, a private, all-male, liberal arts college, is one of the most prestigious historically black colleges in the nation. With a mission to develop men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service, and a notable alumni list that includes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Morehouse attracts some of the best and brightest. So why has this esteemed, selective institution of higher education suddenly been forced to furlough faculty and staff? The answer proves to be both surprising and unsettling: Parent PLUS Loans.
As I’ve written here before, Parent PLUS loans have increasingly become a burden for many families. While the federal government issues these loans, they are most similar to private loans and require parents to pay a high, fixed interest rate of 7.9 percent (plus a 4 percent origination fee, for a total APR of about 9 percent). Parents borrow these loans on behalf of their college-going children, and must meet minimal standards to qualify (more minimal than for private loans). Unlike federal Stafford or Perkins loans, there is no cap on PLUS loans. Parents may borrow up to the full “Cost of Attendance” (COA) of the institution.
Here’s the problem: Morehouse is expensive. Its COA for 2011-2012 was around $44,000. Even when taking into account federal, state, and institutional financial aid, its average net price was $23,324. For students from families with incomes at or below $30,000, the net price was $23,036. Think about that. Some families are paying more than what they make in one year to send their children to Morehouse. And Morehouse attracts a significant percentage of low-income students—almost 50 percent receive Pell Grants.