We wonder why people lack faith in institutions.
Try this example. In 2007, the US Department of Education announced a program of college loan forgiveness for students choosing low-income but crucially important jobs—teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public service jobs in federal, state, local, tribal government, or not-for-profit organizations. If you spent ten years in the job and made regular loan payments, your loans would be erased. Sounds good. Commit to making a difference rather than to making big bucks, and society would thank you by eliminating your remaining college debt.
But in practice very few benefitted from the program. Since 2007, only 16,000 out of 1.3 million seeking access actually received debt forgiveness. The policy was on the books but not in people’s pockets.
Everyone in a university’s financial aid office should be a counsellor at heart.
In October 2021, the Biden administration loosened the impossible-to-meet standards. 22,000 borrowers were projected to benefit immediately. Three months later, 70,000 borrowers have had their debts wiped out, accessing $5 billion dollars in relief. Another 550,000 borrowers could benefit, many of them here in the Philadelphia region.
Apply Now For Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), If You Think You Might Be Eligible
Be aware that the forgiveness applies only to loans directly issued by the government. If you have Federal Family Education Loans or Federal Perkins Loans, you must consolidate these into a Direct Loan by October 31, 2022.
To qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), you must:
- Be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization (federal service includes U.S. military service)
- Work full-time for that agency or organization
- Have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans into a Direct Loan)
- Repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan*
- Make 120 qualifying payments.
Check Out and Support State-Level Loan Forgiveness
Nurses working in Pennsylvania are eligible right now for up to $7500 in student loan debt relief through the Student Loan Relief for Nurses (SLRN) program. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “The program is part of the Nursing Workforce Initiative, which uses $6.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to keep nurses in the profession during the pandemic. Of that total, $5 million will go toward nurses’ student loan relief.”
State Senator Maria Collett (D., Montgomery County) and Governor Tom Wolf are promoting this program and working to continue it. Support them. Nurses can apply here. All applications must be submitted by March 1.
Lobby at the State and Federal Level for Permanent Public Service Loan Forgiveness
For all student borrowers President Biden has extended the loan pause until May 1, 2022, meaning that loan repayments can wait until then. Now is the time—before payments are scheduled to resume—to lobby for permanent debt relief for students in public service and nursing professions. Many are arguing for legislation or an executive order to wipe out up to $10,000 in student debt for everyone. While I see the benefits of that proposal, I more emphatically support removing financial barriers from those who are serving society.
We are facing alarming shortages of teachers, nurses, and other public servants. Now is the time to provide financial incentives for students to enter and remain in these crucial professions.
Colleges and Universities Should Reach Out to Students and Alumni with Loan Forgiveness Information
Everyone in a university’s financial aid office should be a counselor at heart. Navigating federal and state aid is complicated and bureaucratic. Prospective students, current students, and alumni need help. Right now colleges and universities should develop communication strategies to inform alumni in public service professions about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. Pennsylvania institutions should reach out to nursing alums to make sure they know about the Student Loan Relief for Nurses (SLRN) program.
In 2007, the federal government put a loan forgiveness policy on paper that very few could benefit from. University financial aid offices—and university presidents—should have protested and demanded clarity and access. With student debt a national issue, it is imperative that higher education officials do everything in their power to wipe out student debt for those who are serving the community.
The Citizen is one of 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic mobility. Follow the project on Twitter @BrokeInPhilly.
Header Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash