Students rally by telephone to protest proposed cuts in college loan program


Roughly 200 Loyola College students rallied yesterday against politicians, but this was no rebellious, '60s-style protest.

For one thing, college officials sent out news releases to promote it. And the phones on which students made the calls were sponsored by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

In telephone calls from a table in front of the North Baltimore campus' main theater, Loyola undergraduates told senators and representatives to retain full funding for student loans.

"Although our school may seem like it's upper-middle class, a lot of students are on financial aid," said Loyola junior Melissa Patton, 20, a political science major from Stratford, Conn. "A couple of hundred dollars may not seem like a lot to Republicans. . . . Many students just don't have it."

Ms. Patton, a vice president for the college's student government, is one of thousands of students nationally who have rallied this week in what Democrats have touted as "Save Student Aid Week." About half of Loyola students receive some form of federal financial aid.

The plan to cut more than $10 billion from student loans, mainly the interest subsidy, over the next seven years is one of several fronts in intense partisan warfare in Washington over financing for higher education. While Republicans say the cuts amount to the equivalent of a "Big Gulp" soda per student each day over several years, officials at the White House and U.S. Department of Education suggest that students will pay about $1,400 more for a loan of $17,125.

A fax-fevered network of industry groups and conservative Republicans has repeatedly lashed at the president. One such umbrella organization of lending companies, the Coalition for Student Loan Reform, has enlisted for its cause Frank Luntz, a pollster for major Republican officials, and former Congressional Budget Director Rudolph Penner.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats and the nation's colleges are trying to mobilize their own troops, orchestrating demonstrations of support on campuses, on CSPAN and on the Internet. On Monday, Mr. Clinton traveled to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., and unabashedly asked students to flood their representatives with telephone calls supporting student loans.

The White House also issued press releases listing how much more money students at nearby colleges could lose over the next seven years: $7.5 million at Hopkins. $11.1 million at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. $1.4 million at Morgan State University.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a graduate student scheduled to appear in a round-table discussion with the president Monday was barred from speaking at the event because he opposed Mr. Clinton's program to lend money directly to students, rather than through banks.

Later that afternoon, U.S. Rep. William Goodling, a Pennsylvania Republican who has led efforts to cut student loans, assailed the president for using misleading statistics, and said the administration could save $1.5 billion in administrative costs over seven years and use the money to keep the loans free from interest while undergraduates are still in school. Students would then have to pay interest on their loans as soon as they graduated, rather than after the current six-month grace period.

By paying a modest amount more, students will help to eliminate the federal deficit -- a move that will ultimately save all taxpayers money, said U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich, Republican of Baltimore County.

"We're not talking about a whole heck of a lot of money," said Mr. Ehrlich, who finished a decade of paying off thousands of dollars in federally financed student loans from college and law school in 1992. "I don't want to be demagogued to death."

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