Earlier this year VSECU developed Student Loan Independence for Today (LIFT), a loan re-payment program, to help lift the burden of student debt. Unlike a college scholarship that typically pays a lump sum in advance of completing higher education, VSECU wanted to award individuals who have already proven their commitment to their education. The award is designed to help reduce the financial stress of making student loan payments while struggling to make ends meet, looking for a job, managing monthly cash flow or trying to take care of other financial responsibilities.
There were 114 applications considered for one of three awards in the categories of Essay, Service to Vermonters and Financial Literacy.
Congratulations go out to Kelsey Gero, Winooski, who received the Essay award, Agatha Kessler, Barre, who received the Financial Literacy award and Chelsea Poland, South Burlington, who received the Service to Vermonters Award. Beginning in January 2013 VSECU will pay their monthly student loans to a total amount of $5,000 for each individual; bringing between nine and twenty five months of student loan debt relief for these individuals.
Agatha Kessler received the Financial Literacy award by creating a children’s book she authored and illustrated to teach the importance of managing savings responsibly. Kessler is publishing ‘Funny Money’ and VSECU will purchase and donate the books to elementary school libraries around the state. “Through the Student LIFT program, VSECU took my small sketchbook idea and helped turn it into a colorful reality. Vermont is very lucky to have a credit union that truly invests and believes in its members,” said Kessler.
According to a recent study by the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success, the increase in student loan debt continues to grow faster than inflation. Vermont ranks eighth among all states for having the most student debt with 63% of students carrying an average debt of $28,273 as a 2011 graduate. New Hampshire ranks as the state with the highest average student debt of $32,440 and 75% of all students having debt.
“It’s almost a double edge sword that a college degree is needed to be hired for a good paying job but at the same time, the cost of obtaining that degree is costly as tuition continues to rise and employment rates, especially for younger people, are low or in low paying jobs in this market,” said Jana Bagwell, VSECU Board Director and Chair of Community Contributions. “Carrying that debt can sometimes make it almost impossible to make ends meet.”
The award program was open to any Vermont resident member who could demonstrate current student debt. “We received applications from new graduates and from individuals who are still carrying debt from earning a college degree years ago,” said Bagwell. “One of the award recipients graduated eight years ago and is still trying to manage a monthly cash flow for basic living expenses while paying down an outstanding student loan balance of $30,000.”
VSECU intends to offer the award program again in late spring 2013.