The Parent Loan Trap

More than a decade after Aurora Almendral first set foot on her dream college campus, she and her mother still shoulder the cost of that choice.

Ms. Almendral had been accepted to New York University in 1998, but even after adding up scholarships, grants, and the max she could take out in federal student loans, the private university—among nation’s costliest—still seemed out of reach.

One program filled the gap: Aurora’s mother, Gemma Nemenzo, was eligible for a different federal loan meant to help parents finance their children’s college costs. Despite her mother’s modest income at the time—about $25,000 a year as a freelance writer, she estimates—the government quickly approved her for the loan. There was a simple credit check, but no check of income or whether Ms. Nemenzo, a single mom, could afford to repay the loans.

Ms. Nemenzo took out $17,000 in federal parent loans for the first two years her daughter attended NYU. But the burden soon became too much. With financial strains mounting, Ms. Almendral—who had promised to repay the loans herself—withdrew after her sophomore year. She later finished her degree at the far less expensive Hunter College, part of the public City University of New York, and went on to earn a Fulbright scholarship.

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THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION

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