Monday, April 26, 2010

Student loan forgiveness: dream or reality?

For many of us, a PhD was a dream that could only be attained through the use of student loans. Many, many, many loans. (For example, I taught anatomy in a different program that did not award tuition remission to anthropology graduate students, only its own. To qualify to teach I had to carry a certain number of hours. To be able to afford those hours, I had to take out loans. Multiply this by several years.) Given the amount of time graduate degrees in anthropology take, it's not unusual to be saddled for years with debt running into the six figures. I think I just had a small stroke. There are some potential solutions:

Qualified public service may earn you forgiveness on principal and interest if you have been employed FULL-TIME in that position for 10 years of repayment.
Of note to anthropological educators: " Full-time faculty at tribal colleges and universities, as well as faculty teaching in high-need subject areas and shortage areas (including nurse faculty, foreign language faculty, and part-time faculty at community colleges), also qualify."

The NIH Loan Repayment Program offers the potential for up to $35,000 per year to be forgiven if you engage in qualified research for two years. That's right: up to $70,000 of your total loan amount could be forgiven. I applied for this program during the last cycle (applications are accepted once a year). It is a rather intensive application process and you have to carry a high enough debt load to qualify - some percentage of your base annual salary. I believe you also have to be in a tenure-track or equivalent position.

The 5 areas of qualified research are appropriate for many biological anthropologists (in both human and non-human primate fields): clinical, pediatric, health disparities, infertility and contraception. Many of us do engage in research that has a clinical component, and you can also be creative as to how you frame your research. For example, my interest in the placenta and fetal development qualified me for the pediatric research program, although I ended up applying for the health disparities program instead. It's a competitive award but a wonderful opportunity to at least try to reduce your debt load. I will keep you posted - awards will be announced in June. But mark your own calendars for the December 1, 2010 deadline and start pulling your application materials together now.


  1. Julienne - Great advice about the NIH LRP program - I got one of these 2 years ago in Pediatric Health (my application focused on my work with growth and development of the skeleton), so I think you might not have to be tenure track (I was a post-doc), but they may have changed that since my first app. I am up for a renewal this June too - I'll keep my fingers crossed for you if you do the same for me!! Kim

  2. Additional info from a Facebook commentator:
    "Useful post, Julienne. I just wanted to add that at least some of the NIH loan repayment programs do not require a tenure-track position. We've had multiple post-docs at SFBR who received loan repayment awards via the program for health disparities research. You do, however, need to be a US citizen or permanent resident."

  3. You can check out the eligibility requirements here:

    Indeed, there's no mention of being tenure-track. You do have to have completed your terminal degree and have research funding in place.