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Loan program helps keep students afloat
October 13, 1998

As an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, Peter Halvorson ran into a few financial snags. But each time he thought he had reached the point of no return, the school's emergency student loan fund was there, for Halvorson and hundreds of students like him.

"It tells the students that we want to help you stay here, including financially if that's what's necessary."

Peter Halvorson
Professor of Geography

Today Halvorson, a geography professor, is one of the founders of UConn's still fledgling Short Term Emergency Loan Fund. The fund has already helped more than 900 students over some rough spots, says Sharon Kipetz, dean of students.

"It's a wonderful program," says Kipetz, whose office has worked with students since its inception. "We can't pay anyone's tuition, but if someone breaks their glasses and needs $300 to replace them, or a commuter student's transmission goes and they need some money to repair it so they can get to class, it's there for them," she says.

UConn's loan fund began with $50,000 in seed money former President Harry J. Hartley gleaned from his office's budget. It has been sustained through a variety of means, including a senior class gift, a donation from the American Association of University Professors, gift contributions in honor of Carol Wiggins, former vice president for student affairs, at her retirement, and several other gifts - as well as a repayment rate of nearly 100 percent.

Now Kipetz and Halvorson, who co-chairs the Chancellor's Task Force on Community and Civility, would like to expand the program and move it to a new level.

"It builds a sense of loyalty. Students get the sense that the institution was loyal to them, and they feel they should reciprocate," says Halvorson, who is offering a set of suggestions to the task force that include the creation of a long-term emergency fund to supplement the short-term loan program.

"It fits. It tells the students that we care about you being here and we want to help you stay here, including financially if that's what's necessary," says Halvorson, who is one of thousands of Dartmouth graduates who are returning the favor they received while they were students, as sustaining members of one of the New Hampshire college's 11 emergency loan funds.

Kipetz says the current program has worked well, helping some students over small, temporary financial slumps, and others through harder times, when paychecks, for one reason or another, were delayed for several weeks. One student needed help when a family emergency demanded his presence in India.

Besides the 920 students the program has helped with funding during its four years, Kipetz says many other students have been helped by referrals made by staff members in her office, who counsel every student who applies for an emergency loan.

"Every time a student fills out an application, they have to see a counselor to discuss what they need, why they need it. And on a number of occasions we've been able to find help on campus they were not aware of - veteran's benefits, or through financial aid, other departments. We won't loan money to a student who has gone too deeply in debt with a credit card company, but we will refer them to state agencies that can help them," Kipetz says.

That counseling, she adds, has also helped students focus their needs.

"We have some students who will ask for $42.68. They'll have it right down to the penny, and we'll suggest they add another $10. On the other hand, some will need $260 and round it off to $300 or $350, and we'll suggest they bring it down," Kipetz says. "Once you get money in hand, you tend to spend it, and these students are going to pay it back. So the less they have to pay, the better, as long as they have enough to cover their needs."

Finding enough money, says Robert Bee, a professor of anthropology and then chair of the University Senate's Student Welfare Committee, which - with Halvorson's urging - first broached the matter with UConn administrators, was a big problem in the early 1990s.

Bee credits Hartley, Kipetz and Halvorson for finalizing the program.

Richard Veilleux