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Amherst cuts loans in college aid

AMHERST -- Amherst College will replace all student loans in financial aid packages with scholarships, in an effort to eliminate students' debt from college costs, the school announced yesterday.

The prestigious liberal arts school, which in 1999 became the first college in the nation to eliminate loans for low-income students, will start the program for all students in the 2008-09 academic year.

While many colleges have worked to reduce student costs and debt, Amherst joins two others, Princeton and Davidson, in removing loans, according to college spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel.

Amherst will count on increased donations by alumni to come up with the estimated $1.6 million required annually to fund the program in addition to the $1.4 million the school now spends per year on scholarships, she said.

The move will allow the college to select from a broader base of applicants, while giving graduates more career choices, school officials said.

"Too often, students who graduate from college with debt feel compelled to make career choices based in part on their need to pay off their student loans," said Tom Parker, dean of admission and financial aid. "Graduates from low- and middle-income families should have the same array of career options as graduates from upper-income families."

About a third of Amherst's 1,600 students last year received some sort of financial aid package that included school or federal loans.

The loan components of those packages will be replaced by scholarships.

Without any form of assistance, it can cost about $45,000 a year for tuition, room, and board at Amherst, founded in 1821 and located about 90 miles west of Boston.