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New Program Encourages Students to Pursue Their Passion

New Program Encourages Students to Pursue Their PassionTufts' new loan repayment program is being hailed for its unique approach to encouraging college students to pursue careers in public service.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.15.07] It's a dilemma many recent college graduates face, especially those with a passion for public service. With rent, student loans and other expenses kicking in soon after graduation, it can be tough to make ends meet on a salary from a nonprofit or government job. But for Tufts alumni who are working in the public service sector, some of the financial pressure may soon be lifted by university's new loan repayment program, which is designed to encourage and support graduates entering a nonprofit field.

"I'm hoping that our students' career choices will not be distorted as much as they are otherwise by the debt they've acquired in financing their education," Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview with The Boston Globe. "I'm hoping the university can help them follow their passion."

Funded by a 2005 endowment gift from Pierre Omidyar (A'88), founder of eBay and co-founder of Omidyar Network with his wife, Pam (A'89), the program will provide $500,000 in loan aid each year to graduates from across the university who work in low-income public service or government jobs and have significant debt. Exactly how the funds will be dispersed is still being decided, but the plan is for applications to be accepted and the first awards to be made in the fall of 2008.

The program, which has been featured in various publications, including the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, is unprecedented in higher education, according to the Globe. While some law schools and medical schools sponsor similar initiatives, and Tufts' own Fletcher School already has a smaller-scale loan program, the newspaper reported that the Tufts program "marks the first time a university has extensively promoted relatively low-paying public service careers to undergraduates seeking bachelor's degrees in all majors."

In a recent editorial, the newspaper applauded the university's effort. According to the Globe, "Tufts deserves credit for encouraging its graduates to do work that creates better schools, communities, and healthcare services."

Others in higher education agree.

"Tufts is breaking new ground," Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit, told the Globe. "It's a welcome effort, particularly that an elite expensive college is doing this and encouraging it."

For students who attend Tufts, where the cost of undergraduate tuition is about $46,000 per year, the ramifications of financing an education can be a concern. Graduates typically head into the working world with $14,000 to $15,000 debt from loans in their own names, according to Boston's WCVB-TV (Ch. 5).

"Every student who graduates with a loan worries about how they are going to pay it off," Bacow told WCVB. The new program, he explained, is one way Tufts seeks to alleviate that stress, which some seniors are already beginning to feel.

"It's starting to hit me that soon, I'm going to have to start repaying these loans," Rodela Khan, a member of the class of 2008, told the Globe. After graduation, the community health and American studies major hopes to work for a public health organization overseas. "Any help would be incredible at this point," she said.

Tufts alumna Coleen Gatehouse can sympathize with Khan's situation. When she graduated from The Fletcher School in 2001, Gatehouse told the Globe, she had $50,000 in debt and only $40,000 coming in each year from her job at a teen program in Somerville. Through Fletcher's loan aid program, Gatehouse received financial support.

"It let me stick with my career choice," she told the Globe.

Tufts officials hope that the new program will benefit other students like Gatehouse.

"As a university, Tufts is committed to preparing students in all fields for lifetimes of active citizenship," Rob Hollister, dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, told Boston's AM 680 WRKO. "So we want to do everything we can to make it possible for them to have a totally free choice to follow their passions to enter the professions and careers that they most want to do and that they've been working so hard to prepare for."

With Tufts' focus on public service, senior Peter Bendix sees the program as being a "fantastic idea" that will enable many more students to follow their passion without worrying so much about their paycheck.

"I know Tufts tries to encourage people to try and get into things that are going to change the world," the American studies major told WCVB. "And oftentimes those things, especially out of college, aren't paid very well."

According to the Globe, university data from 2005 show that Tufts alumni with bachelor's degrees earn average starting salaries of $22,700 in nonprofit jobs and $27,900 in government jobs. Their counterparts in the private sector, the newspaper reported, earn about $40,000.

"If people from Tufts go into public service, the world becomes a better place," Bendix told WCVB. "And if Tufts helps pay their way, the more people from Tufts are going to do this."

According to the American Council on Education's Hartle, programs that focus on college students who are selecting low-income, public service careers are needed to complement existing federal initiatives that offer loan forgiveness for teachers or government employees who spend a certain amount of time in the workforce.

"Programs like Tufts' will prove far more effective because they're at the campus level," Hartle told the Globe. "You will probably see students much more aware of the possibilities."

And the impact will extend far beyond Tufts, according to the Globe editorial. "It's an interesting reinterpretation of America's commitment to the pursuit of happiness: One shouldn't settle for pursuing one's own happiness when there's a whole world waiting to be improved."

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