The icing on the cake


A program initiated by the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority will take some of the sting out of the cost of borrowing for higher education, while enhancing employment opportunities before and after earning a degree.

Last month, the agency approved loan forgiveness for internships. Under the program, qualified students can receive $2,000 in loan forgiveness for participating in an internship.

Sound too easy? Must be a catch?

The answer is “No” to both questions.

To be eligible, students must be enrolled in a “for credit” internship. The internship can be paid or non-paid and students must be either enrolled in a Rhode Island college or a Rhode Islander attending college out of state. The program takes effect this May 1.

Internships have long proven themselves as a means for people, regardless of age, to explore career opportunities. Local private and parochial schools have built them into their senior curriculum that pair a high school student with an agency or company for one day a week during the spring semester. In Warwick public schools, seniors complete a proficiency project in order to graduate. Aspects of that program were similar to internships; with students gaining guidance from mentors in the workforce; or with expertise in a specialized field. Unfortunately, the district ruled mentors required background checks and volunteers must restrict their mentoring to phones or e-mail.

With its new program, the Student Loan Authority is looking to address the issue of college debt and encourage students to pursue internships.

With the escalating cost of a higher education, the average loans carried by a graduating student increased 58 percent; from $17,333 in 2005 to $27,253 last year, according to Forbes magazine. During the same period, education loans taken out by the parents increased 75 percent to an average of $34,000.

The magazine described situations where students take on increasing amounts of tuition debt in expectation that their salaries will cover loan payments when they graduate. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. In some instances, the good paying jobs aren’t there or there’s no job at all.

Internships provide a glimpse of the “real” workplace. Students put classroom training into practical use and also learn what a workplace – other than McDonald’s or waiting on tables – can be like.

We can’t think of a better way for students to better understand what they want and what the workplace can offer, and reducing their college loans by $2,000 is the icing on that particular cake.

More can be learned about the program from the RISLA website at www.risla.com.


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