Debt relief plans fall short of student needs

Up to $20k offered in debt forgiveness

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Photo courtesy of CWU Flickr.

The Financial Wellness Center is located in Bouillon Hall 102.

Katherine Camarata, Lead Editor

The weight of student debt applies significant pressure to about 45 million borrowers nationwide with an accumulated $1.6 trillion in debt, according to a press release issued by The White House on Aug. 24.

In an attempt to fulfill campaign promises, the Biden administration announced they will be forgiving up to $20,000 in student loan debt for recipients of the Pell Grant and $10,000 for those who did not receive the grant. 

The release stated that those with incomes greater than $125,000 individually ($250,000 for married couples) will not be eligible.

According to CWU Financial Wellness Counselor James Paton, any federal student loan that was dispersed prior to June 30 is included in this debt relief. 

“This would even include graduate loans that graduate students have taken out as well as parent plus loans. These are loans taken out by a parent on the student’s behalf,” Paton said. “For the current students, the students that would be taking out student loans for the upcoming school year or anything after, those debt balances would not be included.”

Biden’s three-step plan also involves reducing monthly undergraduate loan payments from a 10% to a 5% cap. The plan will give “appropriate credit toward loan forgiveness” to citizens who have worked at a nonprofit, in state, federal, local or tribal government or who have served in the military. 

Biden’s administration announced intentions to lower college costs and hold universities “accountable when they hike up prices,” according to the release. The Department of Education will be extending the student loan pause through December 31, 2022.

Director of Financial Aid Leslie Hammes said, “They will start making repayments in January. Everyone should be contacted by their servicer prior to that letting them know what they need to do because there is a large contingent of borrowers who have never made a payment, because they went into what would be considered repayment during the repayment pause.” 

While Hammes said the $10-20,000 of relief is “great” she said, “I don’t think this is a long term solution because obviously students who are still going to borrow are not going to be given the same opportunity.”

According to Hammes, those who have been Pell eligible will receive the relief but the federal government hasn’t yet defined exactly what Pell eligible means.

For students expecting to benefit from the debt relief, Paton said the Department of Education may already have their information on file if they have applied for programs like FAFSA and the income-driven repayment plan. 

“For individuals that do not have the income information on file, they will be creating an application that individuals can fill out,” Paton said. “It looks like it will be available for the first part of October.”

Local Impact

CWU students will be impacted by this change to varying degrees, including Diego Garcia who studies in the Philosophy master’s program. 

“I’ll have 20k taken off my student loans,” Garcia said. “I have a total of 48k currently. That will definitely make it more manageable to cut down on payments when the time comes to start repaying those again.” 

Eponine Romo, a recent CWU graduate and student in the Law and Justice master’s program, said the debt relief will affect her life.

“As a mom of four, this is huge for me and my family’s future,” Romo said. “I’m so thankful.”

The cost of public and private four-year-universities has almost tripled since 1980 and this includes adjustment for inflation, according to the release. 

The release stated that Pell grants have shifted from once covering 80% of university costs to now covering closer to one third of costs, while one third of those with student loan debt don’t have a degree.

Students are now graduating with close to $25,000 in debt on average according to the Department of Education, while the cost of living continues to increase and the pandemic has caused financial upsets for many.

Hammes said she hopes the federal government will reauthorize the Higher Education Act and that the debt relief will translate to “higher Pell grants or more support for institutions so that students don’t need to borrow as much money.”

Hammes said the affordability of education needs to be addressed, but she doesn’t have a preference as to how that’s accomplished. 

“I don’t know that debt relief is sustainable,” Hammes said. “I would prefer to see the costs come down for everyone.”

While Garcia will be helped by the implementation of Biden’s plans, he said the relief falls short of what he believes students in this country need. 

“I think they definitely should have gone farther and should have canceled student debt,” Garcia said. “Of course 20 grand helps, for people that have not that much debt and will have all their debt paid off. That’s amazing for those people, but it comes at a cost too.”

Garcia said he believes education should be provided by government funding and is beyond simply a human right- it’s necessary for the survival of our world. 

“We are up against the climate crisis, the world is burning,” Garcia said. “We need to face that situation and it’s going to take education.”

Students seeking resources regarding debt and financial aid can visit the newly-created Financial Wellness Center located in Bouillon 102 where Paton has worked since mid-March. 

“Essentially what I do is work with students on basic financial literacy,” Paton said. “That would include budgeting, understanding their resources versus their expenses. I can also help students with some of their student loan questions that they have.”

Paton is available to meet with any student on the Ellensburg CWU campus or with students at any of the other campus locations by phone or Zoom. He said his booking website will be up and running in the near future, and in the meantime he can be contacted for help via email at [email protected] or by calling 509.963.3040.

“We definitely want to make sure that we are here to serve all of our students,” Hammes said.

Updated for clarity and additional perspectives.