Student Loans at Penn State Become "Microfinance Madness"

Student Loans at Penn State Become "Microfinance Madness"-Image via Wikipedia

The new form of “micro aid” is believed to be the first on a U.S. campus

Penn State University is well known for having the largest alumni association in the world with more than 165,000 dues-paying members. But alum Tom Sharbaugh (class of ’73) wasn’t thinking big when he and his wife recently proposed to the university what is believed to be the nation’s first microfinance student aid program of its kind.  In fact, the key to helping financially strapped students stay in school may be less not more–micro aid yielding macro returns.

The new “microfinance match” Penn State recently launched is a revolving student aid fund, and Tom and wife Kristin Hayes, are matching 2:1, up to a total of $100,000 in matching support, any gifts to the fund.  Unlike familiar college capital campaigns that target deep-pocketed alumni, smaller gifts are not only welcome but also encouraged as part of the Microfinance Match campaign.

“A broad spectrum of alumni, especially recent graduates new to the working world and anxious to support the University, love the idea of making a small gift that is leveraged into a micro loan to an eligible student,” explained Tom.  He said 2010 graduate Greg Tallman is one of many drawn to the program, concerned that proposed budget cuts to Penn State and in Federal student loan programs dramatize the need for immediate support.

Tallman, a graduate of the Penn State Smeal College of Business, was so inspired when he heard about the new program that he decided to write a check, his first to PSU. “I just decided this is the perfect opportunity for a recent graduate to step up and start giving back,” explained Tallman. “The match means that even a relatively small gift will have a big impact, and I know first hand from recent experience how many students need this kind of urgent help.” He is also appealing through his own social network to create – with impressive early results – a March “microfinance madness”.

“Donors are seeing the power of grassroots giving and the recipients – who will pay back the loans in full at below-market rates – can use that $1500 to $2000 to overcome unexpected hardships, stay in school, and receive their diplomas,” explained Tom. The concept of microfinancing for American college students is so basic that Tom, an attorney in Philadelphia, and Kristin, a former federal prosecutor, were surprised the Penn State program appears to be a first among U.S. colleges and universities.

“Like so many others, we associated microfinance with developing countries,” said Kristin, “and those successes abroad inspired us to apply the same principles here in the U.S. for Penn Staters.  The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, and now we are focused on sustaining for years to come this new form of student aid.”

For more details:, Twitter (PSUMicrofinance), Facebook (Penn State Microfinance Match)

CONTACT: Steph Rosenfeld (Class of  ’73),, +1-215-514-4101

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