The heightened scramble to procure and pay off student loans at Southern Connecticut State University has barely fazed nearby Yale, Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said Tuesday.
Students at SCSU, like millions across the country, are concerned about the availability of student loans as the nation’s credit market tightens, Dodd said in a presentation at the university’s campus near West Rock. While Dodd tried to allay the worries of SCSU students, he said no immediate fix for the national loan situation is in sight. Yale, on the other hand, is fortunate in being largely unaffected, he said.
In a brief interview after his remarks, Dodd told the News that Yale students are “well-insulated” from current economic crisis, citing the college’s $22.9-billion endowment.
“At Yale, they don’t deprive any student that has financial need,” said Dodd, the chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. “I’m less concerned there. I think Yale wouldn’t let anyone drop out because of financial need.”
Ironically, institutions with lower costs are less well-insulated from times of economic turbulence, Dodd told the News.
SCSU, a university with roughly 1,300 incoming freshman each year, will charge $15,125 in tuition, room and board this year.
In his remarks, Dodd spoke in depth about the government’s recent $700-billion bailout plan, which he helped broker.
To convey the gravity of the current financial crisis to the roughly 170 attendees, mostly students, Dodd relayed a story about the harrowing night of Sept. 17, when he and several other legislators were asked to come to the home of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.
During that nighttime meeting, Dodd recalled, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the assembled legislators that a few days’ hesitation could lead to an economic meltdown.
Few events in recent history have had the same gravity as that night, Dodd said.
“The only other comparable moment I could give to this evening was 9/11,” Dodd said.
Despite the still-tense financial situation, credit has begun to flow, Dodd said, expressing optimism about the country’s long-term economic prospects.
Toward the end of his talk, Dodd admonished private lenders who had aggressively recruited unqualified students for loans. He added that a combination of fair loans and low tuition costs should keep college within the grasp of all Americans.
“I don’t think anybody in the United States should be deprived of higher education because their pockets aren’t deep enough,” he said.
Following Dodd’s remarks, Richard Croce, senior vice president and general counsel of the Connecticut Student Loan Foundation, provided a Connecticut-specific take on the student loan situation.
Croce described the student loan market as a “perfect storm.”
“When people stopped buying bonds backed by subprime mortgages, they also stopped buying bonds backed by student loans,” Croce said. “We’re stuck selling a product that nobody wants to buy.”
Still, CSLF anticipates that it will have enough money for the next two years, he said.
In the following question-and-answer session, Dodd responded to students voicing urgent concerns about their inability to procure or pay for loans.
Jen DuVal, a SCSU student, said she works four different jobs in order to put herself through college. Looking at a slumping job market, DuVal wondered aloud how she could compete for jobs against applicants from schools such as Yale.
“I’ve had applicants from both schools,” Dodd replied. “I’ll take Southern.”
SCSU student Brian Pedalino asked Croce and Dodd if they could explain why his loan provider had retracted the initial benefits he was offered.
Dodd responded that his staff would be willing to help all individual students in attendance who raised private concerns about affording their loans.
While Pedalino said he was pleased with the response to his question, not all attendees were equally happy.
Robert Keating, a SCSU graduate student who transferred from American University for financial reasons, told Dodd the bailout plan was “immoral, irresponsible, and unjust,” drawing the comparison to a plumber pouring $700 billion into broken pipes.
Dodd said he respectfully disagreed with this analogy, defending the bailout and arguing that the most important step is to restore consumer confidence in the market.