Wynette Zuppardi is director of financial services at Brown University and oversees the bursar, cashier and loan offices, as well as university e-commerce. She has worked in higher education for 19 years. Zuppardi is vice president of the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and has also served the organization as secretary and as chair of the training and conference committees. She has also served the Rhode Island branch of the organization as president, vice president and secretary.
Zuppardi has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and master’s degree in information systems, both from Bryant University.
PBN: Congress did not take action before the July 1 deadline to keep the interest rate on student loans from doubling. That means the interest on a federally subsided Stafford loan would increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. There’s some indication that the U.S. Senate could vote July 10 to keep the lower rate in effect for at least one more year. As a college financial services director, do you have any indication that vote may take place?
ZUPPARDI: I can’t really speculate whether a vote may take place. It’s my understanding that senators Reed and Harkin are attempting to bring it forth again.
PBN: In your opinion, how do you think Congress reached this point of allowing interest on student loans to increase, considering the substantial debt in college loans many students are already facing? Weren’t there colleges and organizations lobbying to keep the rates low, in what has always been one of the most important paths that made college accessible for students, the federally-subsidized loans?
ZUPPARDI: There are many organizations are working hard to advocate for students. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators is one of them. They’ve testified to Congress and many organizations and individuals are writing or speaking to our representatives for their support in creating some sort of sustainable interest rate. I just think they can’t come to a consensus. There have been several different proposals put forth on how the interest rate should be determined, whether it be a fixed rate or variable rate, whether it’s going to be based on the treasury bill , whether it will be fixed for the life of the loan or change every year. I think that because of the many different proposals, they can’t come to a consensus.
PBN: If Congress does not act to hold down interest rates on student loans for a year, or even longer, how do you think that will affect students’ college plans? Do you think Brown students will have an advantage because the university has a history of generous financial aid through a variety of sources, so students are not as dependent on federally-backed loans?
Zuppardi: I do think our students have an advantage because with our aid policies that are currently in place, students are borrowing less. Overall, even our students are still going to be paying double interest rates on the amount they’re borrowing. On our borrowing limits that we have set, it’s approximately an additional $3,400 in interest if they repay over 10 years. Many of our students may choose a different repayment plan that extends beyond the 10 years, so that’s more interest that they’d be paying.
PBN: In your interaction with students, do you find them burdened with, and worried about, their substantial debt due to college loans as they prepare to graduate?
ZUPPARDI: We’ve done a lot over the past several years to start to educate borrowers prior to them borrowing their first loan. We’ve implemented some financial literacy programs and we start speaking about loan repayment right from the start. So it’s helped relieve some stress. But I think that in the current job market and the current economy, we’ve seen increases in the level of stress that our graduating population has regarding their loan repayment. They’re asking a lot more questions about the different repayment options. I find them asking more questions about their financial future in general because they have the loan debt. For instance, “How am I going to buy a car or a house?”
PBN: Brown draws students from many states and countries. But in the Ocean State, there’s a tremendous effort, or at least hope, to get more students to attend and complete college or other training programs so they are prepared for the highly skilled jobs that companies in the state say are going unfilled because there’s not an adequately trained workforce. In your opinion, if the interest on subsidized Stafford loans remains at 6.8 percent, do you think that will have a short-term or long-term impact on developing the Rhode Island workforce?
ZUPPARDI: I think it could, if students start to weigh their education decisions heavily on their borrowing. If they’re considering the higher repayment of their loan in the future, they might make different decisions about furthering their education.