As the student loan total keeps climbing and Congress keeps debating what to do, advice from all corners keeps bombarding the nation’s desperate borrowers. Some tout the use of crowdfunding via sites like GoFundMe and Zero Bound; others encourage borrowers to leverage rebate programs; and in some cases, cryptocurrencies have been hyped as a student loan hack. Most, of course, repeat the old saws—avoid excessive amounts, pay more than the minimum, pay while in school, and sign up for auto-debit, and more—to enrollees and alums alike. Even as these proposals, some madder than others, swirl, a handful of schools and a smattering of employers have attempted to help their students and employees deal with the omnipresent financial specter looming over America’s higher education landscape.
Not surprisingly, graduates from America’s medical schools often leave with gargantuan debts. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 75% of medical students who graduated in 2017 incurred educational loans, with the mean debt standing at $190,694. To alleviate this problem, medical schools have begun experimenting with solutions.
In April 2018, the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University announced that it would eliminate student loans with scholarships for all students who qualify for financial aid. A second institution—the University of Puerto Rico’s Ponce School of Medicine—has digitized parts of its curriculum, curbing costs in the absence of a large endowment. Tufts University now offers a university-wide loan repayment assistance program, referred to as LRAP, that provides funds to graduates from its college and graduate and professional schools to help qualifying grads with monthly student loan payments. Additionally, the medical school at the University of California—Riverside recently announced the planned launch of the Dean’s Mission Award in the fall of 2018, which will provide two years of free medical education to those who agree to practice in the region.
Meanwhile, employers from all fields have started offering student loan repayment programs in an effort to target millennial workers saddled with student debt. According to a Forbes article, approximately 4% of employers adopted student loan repayment assistance as part of their benefits package as of August 2016. In recent years, well-known corporate behemoths Staples, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Aetna have joined this list. Gradifi, the leading provider of student loan repayment and college savings benefit programs to U.S. employers and one of a flurry of new startups in recent years designed to facilitate student loan repayment benefits (including FutureFuel.io, Tuition.io, and Student Loan Genius) today has more than 300 corporate clients, up from 50 in 2016.
For the most part, these programs are neither unduly complicated for employees nor outlandishly expensive for employers. Generally, an employer makes a regular contribution to an employee’s loan balance, typically $100 a month, even as the employee continues to make their regular monthly payment. Although the employer’s contributions (unlike tuition reimbursement benefits) constitute taxable income, employees still save money on both the balance and the interest assessed for a longer loan term. According to a study commissioned by Gradifi, on a $26,500 student loan with 4% interest, employer assistance of $100 a month can cut down the length of a 10-year loan by about three years, saving employees around $10,000, which not only earns employee loyalty and boosts morale but can attract the latest crop of burdened graduates.