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ADA, others urge Congress to support student loan reform

March 24, 2017

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — The American Dental Association and two other dental groups March 24 urged Congress to revisit student debt when it considers reauthorizing federal student loan programs later this year.

In a letter to House Committee on Education and Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Ranking Member Robert C. Scott, D-Va., the ADA, along with the American Student Dental Association and American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, urged the legislators to include several proposals when reauthorizing the Higher Education Act of 1965. That legislation provides the statutory authority for most federal student loan programs to operate, including those that dental students use most.

"We are extremely concerned about the alarming levels of educational debt that dental students face at graduation," the organizations wrote. "One way to help mitigate the extraordinary levels of educational debt is to lower the interest rates and other borrowing terms for federal student loans."

The three dental groups urged Congress to consider:

  • Lowering the interest rates on federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loans.
  • Reinstating eligibility for graduate and professional degree students to use federal Direct Subsidized Stafford Loans to finance their graduate education.
  • Permitting federal graduate student loans to be refinanced more than once so that new dentists can take advantage of lower interest rates under more favorable economic conditions, as provided in H.R. 1614, the Student Loan Refinancing Act.  
  • Halting the accrual of interest while a student is completing an internship or residency and cap total amount of interest that can accrue overall.
  • Extending the deferment period to the maximum extent practicable.
  • Simplifying and adding more transparency to the federal graduate student loan application process.
  • Removing the barriers that prohibit those with private graduate student loans from taking advantage of federal student loan forgiveness/service payback programs.

In 2016, the average educational debt per graduating dental school senior was $219,463, according to an annual survey from the American Dental Education Association.

"Building a dental practice is an expensive endeavor, and banks are less likely to loan start-up funds to a new dentist who is already $200,000 in debt," the groups said. "It also creates a financial barrier for those wanting to pursue careers in public service, teaching, research and administration."  

The ADEA survey also found that nearly 70 percent of graduating dental students reported using federal student loans to pay for dental school.

"While the interest rates and repayment terms for federal student loans are generally more favorable than private sector loans, the borrowing terms are still daunting," the organizations said, noting that interest rates could reach as high as 9.5 percent annually.

The dental groups argued that lowering the interest rates and repayment terms for federal student loans could strengthen small businesses and improve access to dental care.

"Reducing the excessive burden of educational debt will make banks more open to loaning start-up funds for new dentists to open a dental practice. It will also remove barriers for those wanting to pursue careers in public service, teaching, research and administration," the letter concluded.

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