A few years ago, Brenda Borders, a 2011 Huntington University graduate, wasnt sure she could afford to pursue her dream of joining the youth ministry.
She had received a soccer scholarship and significant financial aid from Huntington. But by the time she graduated, she still was slated to leave with nearly $60,000 in debt.
Then during her sophomore year, an administrator told her about a new program that would reimburse her for her student loans if she accepted a low-paying job.
She accepted the offer, took a job with a local church and hasnt looked back since.
I really truly am happy and completely, 100 percent enjoying what Im doing right now, she said. If it wasnt for the program, I couldnt do it.
Student loans are in the national spotlight this week, after President Obama announced a plan to make paying for college more affordable. But hes not the only one: Huntington University officials believe they have a plan that beat him to it.
Borders is one of about 400 students at Huntington University taking advantage of the schools loan reimbursement assistance program, which started three years ago but is open to all students for the first time this year.
The program offers financial assistance to graduates who take a job that pays less than $40,000 a year. Students can pursue any career they wish, and those who never earn more than $20,000 wont ever have to pay a dime.
In an era of rising student loan default rates and anxiety over the cost of education, officials hope the program will provide students with an affordable, safe way to pursue careers in public service and other noble but low-paying professions.
Although Huntington is putting about $400,000, or 5 percent of its student aid money toward the program each year, officials say they expect the initiative will actually make money for the university. Once word gets out about the program, they expect to see an enrollment boost, which will in turn lead to more revenue.
To offer the program, Huntington partnered with the Loan Repayment Assistance Program Association, a national group that has set up similar programs at several other Christian colleges, including Taylor.
The group bases its program after similar, long-standing loan reimbursement programs at Harvard Law School, Yale Law School and other law schools.
It works like this: Huntington pays a fee, which can vary from about $1,000 to $1,400 to the LRAP Association each year for every student enrolled in the program. The association has worked with an actuary and an insurance partner to make sure that fee can cover the program.
When a student in the program graduates, the association will send quarterly loan reimbursement checks to students based on how much money the graduate earns.
Students earning less than $20,000 will pay nothing, for example, while students earning $30,000 will pay half of their loan. Once a student hits the $40,000 annual salary mark, he or she will be responsible for paying his or her loans in full.
Students must be working at least 30 hours to qualify.
Borders, who works part time as a youth director at Aboite Missionary Church, said she has to work two jobs to qualify for the program. But shes not complaining. Ordinarily, she said, she would pay close to $500 each month in loans, and now she pays nothing.
Her husband also qualifies for the program, so his loans are reduced as well.
We have such a bright financial future, she said. Instead of paying, were saving.
Although Huntington is still testing the program, Jeff Berggren, senior vice president for enrollment management, said it plans to offer the same program next year.
The student response is starting to be really good, he said. Some parents are very excited, but it tends to be almost a little too good to believe. Some people think Bernie Madoff is on the board of directors.