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WV Higher Education Policy Commission offers guidance on student loans

The Charleston Gazette Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As students prepare to head back to college in August, state officials are urging them to think carefully about what kind of student loans they take out.

The Higher Education Policy Commission, the state agency which oversees the four-year public colleges in the state, released a short guide last week with helpful tips on paying for a degree.

“There’s a really big misconception, not just in West Virginia, that students are really taking out enormous amounts of student loan debt. I think that’s kind of lingering from some of the horror stories during the recession,” said Jessica Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the commission. “In reality, we don’t have a major student loan debt program. It’s bigger than we’d like, we’ve made progress over the years.”

Kennedy said that, in 2015, a third of college students from West Virginia going to in-state schools graduate without any student loan debt. Still, data released by the U.S. Department of Education last year showed that West Virginians had the second highest student loan default rate in the nation.

“A lot of times, students are offered quite a lot more than they need because they qualify for more,” Kennedy said. “Then they can feel like they have to take that full amount out. If you only need a couple thousand dollars to get you through the semester, just take out a couple thousand dollars.”

The commission advises students to take out federally subsidized student loans before taking unsubsidized loans or private loans from a third party.

In order to qualify for financial aid from the federal government, or any state aid like the Promise Scholarship, students need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better know as the FAFSA. The application can be accessed at

Kennedy said even students who don’t think they will qualify for need-based scholarships or grants should complete the FAFSA, because the application is required to get a subsidized loans.

Students who aren’t ready to go to college, but would like to know how much they might qualify for in financial aid, can use an online tool to estimate how much aid they will receive when they do go to college.

“Adult learners can qualify for a great deal of aid, as well,” Kennedy said. “They can’t qualify for the Promise Scholarship, but they can qualify for any other state-based financial aid based program that West Virginia offers.”

The guide advises students to stay in close contact with the financial-aid advisers at their own campus. Students can also contact the state’s division of financial aid at 888-825-5707 to speak to a financial aid expert there.

“Choosing to pursue education and training beyond high school is undoubtedly a sound investment,” HEPC chancellor Paul Hill said in a news release. “But just like with any other financial decision, it’s imperative that students make informed choices in deciding the type and amount of loans to accept.”

Reach Jake Jarvis at [email protected],, 304-348-7939 or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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