- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) - Students at the University of Northern Iowa have managed to significantly reduce average student debt by taking advantage of a federal program that requires them to teach a high-need subject at a school in an impoverished neighborhood.

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant offers $4,000 per year - up to $16,000 over four years - to students who follow the unique requirement. The grant converts to a loan with retroactive interest if a student doesn’t fulfill the four-year requirement within eight years of graduation.

The average UNI graduate last year had about $23,000 in debt, the Des Moines Register reported (https://dmreg.co/1hQsJzM ), down from about $26,000 three years ago. Officials say that’s due to wide use of the grant, as well as factors like mandatory in-person counseling before students take out a private loan.

UNI officials say more than 600 students have received $2.3 million through the program this year - the fourth-highest number of recipients in the nation. Iowa State University in Ames has 116 students with the grant, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City has 10.

UNI graduate Jacob Bruns, 22, saved at least $10,000 in loans through the program. He graduated in December and is still looking for work. He called the money savings a huge help.

“I understand the reservations about accepting the grant. If you end up not teaching, it will really come back to bite you on the butt,” he said. “But if you fulfill the requirements, it’s free money.”

Joyce Morrow, UNI financial aid director, said the grant’s requirements are one reason it isn’t used in more schools. But officials say the program works well at UNI because it attracts students who know what they want.

“There are a lot of students here who know they want to teach,” said Dwight Watson, the UNI College of Education dean. “They’re not there to explore a major.”

The newspaper reported that UNI is in its fifth year of offering the program. Officials are optimistic with the results so far: More than 80 percent of the grants are in good standing.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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