Wyoming Catholic College, a private Catholic liberal arts college in Lander, Wyoming, announced April 11 that it will not participate in the Department of Education’s financial aid program that provides more that $150 billion in federal loans, grants and work-study to U.S. college students. The college’s choice prevents its students from receiving U.S. government funding to help pay for tuition. By refusing government money, the college aims to resist federal requirements that contradict Catholic beliefs, such as mandates on contraceptive insurance coverage and same-sex marriage laws. However, rejecting government-backed aid significantly reduces the funds available for tuition and disproportionately impacts low-income students, who must then turn to higher interest loans to finance their college educations or forgo the school entirely.
Wyoming Catholic College has not been yet been accredited, despite the fact that it became a candidate last October. Accreditation would have brought its students monumentally closer to eligibility for aid. Despite this, school officials unanimously voted to opt out of the federal aid program. Although the college offers its own financial aid in the form of scholarships and work-study, it has sacrificed the opportunity to provide $650,000 in loans and $250,000 in Pell grants annually.
According to the college’s website, “students are expected to borrow $3,500 for freshman year, $4,500 for sophomore year, and $5,500 for junior and senior years” in order to receive financial aid from the college. Students who cannot secure alternate forms of funding. These private loans are generally more expensive than federal student loans, and, unlike federal loans, can accrue interest while the student is still in school. They charge substantially higher interest rates than federal loans without a fixed interest rate. As such, rates can rise considerably over the course of a student’s college career. Furthermore, private loans have less forgiving repayment policies than their federal counterparts. Advising students to take out costly private loans and depriving them of more financially stable payment options effectively discourages low-income students from enrolling.
It has become exceedingly difficult for low-income students to pursue a Catholic college education. Catholic affiliated institutions make up 5 of the 10 most expensive schools for low-income students. These colleges and universities generally charge high prices and seek out more affluent applicants, forcing many students to decide between drowning in debt or going to a different school. Students should be able to use all financial resources at their disposal to pay for their education, including federal aid that exists explicitly for this purpose. Wyoming Catholic College should put aside its institutional agenda and focus on the needs of its most disadvantaged students.
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A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 15 print edition. Email Zahra Haque at [email protected].