Life comes and goes, loans are forever

Last fiscal year, over 30 states cut funding for higher education. And in the last three years, the Arizona legislature has cut hundreds of millions of dollars to higher education. In response, the ASU administration has resorted to restructuring departments, spiking tuition, implementing excessive fees and pushing to privatize colleges in Arizona’s only public universities.

Most alarming is the vulnerability and impact on the individual student.  Because of pathetic state funding, the cost of attending both a two- and four-year institution has increased drastically.  In order to remain registered in classes, a student has to pay tuition in full. With scholarships, grants and public loans diminishing in relation to tuition increases, students’ only choice is to take out private loans.

However, private loans are dangerously unregulated and can devastate families that seek to improve their lives. This was the sad reality for the Bryski family from New Jersey.

In 2006, Christopher Bryski, a 23-year-old student at Rutgers University, fell out of a tree and entered into a deep coma from the impact of the fall. While his federal loans were forgiven in light of this tragic event, creditors and banks in the private loan industry continued to call Bryski’s family to collect the outstanding debt. Refusing to speak with Bryski’s parents, creditors insisted on talking to Bryski directly, even in his vegetative state.

According to Christopher’s brother Ryan Bryski, federal loans have some regulation, including loan forgiveness in the event of catastrophic injury or death of a student, but private loans remain completely unregulated.

In order to talk to the private loan companies on Christopher’s behalf, his parents paid $4,000 to gain guardianship over their son. However, without the original borrower granting permission, even if the borrower is incapacitated, the private companies refused to speak with his parents.

“All they want is their money, and they won’t even talk to us. How heartless is that? He’s not dead yet; he can’t talk to you,” Ryan Bryski said.

Eventually, Christopher passed away, and his parents, who cosigned for his private loans, are currently paying the student loans of their deceased son.

Determined to ensure no other family has to go through a similar situation, the Bryski family decided to work with Congressional Representative John Adler to introduce legislation addressing this issue.

Known as “Christopher’s Law,” HR 5458 recently passed the House of Representatives and now awaits the Senate’s passage. However, enabling students to take out insurance on private loans was removed from the bill, leaving only mandatory disclosure by lenders of what students and their cosigners are agreeing to.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Arizona ranks last in the United States when it comes to students defaulting on their loans.

Let’s hope Congress continues to pass laws that protect students and families from predatory lenders. The fact remains that the cost of higher education has increased much faster than families can afford, based on limited financial aid options. Even in times of economic hardship, we must look to fully fund our institutions in order to provide the best educational options and training to the new work force.

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