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Student loan program at Community Foundation of Western Mass. temporarily on 'pause'

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A no-interest student loan program run by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts is temporarily on hold. The decision comes in light of changes to state and federal higher education funding, said Denise Hurst, vice president for community impact and partnerships at the foundation.

"We need to take a minute to pause and really make sure that what we're doing is the right way to be doing it. That how we've been administering the loan program for some years now is the way to continue to considering the evolving landscape of higher ed," Hurst said, mentioning recent changes in the federal student aid program known as FAFSA. The rollout of its new application has been fraught with technical difficulties and has delayed the announcement of student aid packages.

"Some students have delayed going on to college. Some have decided to go to different institutions, or different institutions than they probably were expecting to go, to because they have to take into consideration cost," Hurst said.

Hurst also mentioned the Healey administration's investments in higher education, including free community collegeand the Mass Transfer program.

Last year the Springfield, Massachusetts-based foundation gave $729,000 in loans to almost 250 applicants, Hurst said.

In the short term the foundation plans to meet with college officials and students, to understand how other higher education loans are being applied for and used, Hurst said, to make sure their loans are being administered in the best way possible.

"Is the $3,000 that we're currently allowing students to borrow [per year] — is that enough? Does that put them in jeopardy of of losing their Pell [Grant]? Could we lower it and then give out more to more students?" Hurst said.

The timing of loan disbursement will be another thing the foundation takes a look at, Hurst said, adding that often students get generous financial aid packages in the first two years of college, and then aid begins to dwindle.

"We realize how important it is to support our students — in particular those who are coming from historically marginalized populations, students of color, first gen nontraditional students — to have access to funding so that they can complete their education," Hurst said.

Currently $12,000 per student is the maximum loan amount a student could receive. Hurt said that, too, is under review, considering the cost of higher education.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."

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