There is an Oct. 31 deadline to consolidate loans into the Direct Loan Program to qualify for student loan forgiveness. Apparently this offer has created a national discussion on whether loan forgiveness is good for both the student borrower and for our nation, already experiencing an expanding national debt.
The forgiveness applies to nearly $8.1 billion in federal loans, but that is a fraction of the debt that could qualify. The average amount of debt forgiven through the program is $64,968.
I write this as a person who has always worked for nonprofits as a divorced, single parent with a son, and I deeply appreciate President Joe Biden offering loan forgiveness for federal loans. Nonprofits afforded me the opportunity to advance my education as a divorced mother of one while giving me the flexibility to be fully present in my son’s school life.
I remember that I wanted to enroll my son in Head Start, a federal program that promotes school readiness in low-income families, while I was pursuing my doctorate. I was told that studying for a Ph.D. meant I was voluntarily poor and therefore he would not qualify for enrollment. That year I was paying student fees for myself and for my son to attend a Montessori school, a system of education for children that develops natural interests and activities rather than the usual, formal teaching methods. His tuition cost more than mine. I took out student loans when my income for a family of two hit below the poverty level.
Nonprofit work was meaningful and fulfilling but didn’t pay much. One big benefit was that nonprofits allowed me to regularly volunteer in my son’s class and be one of a very few African American parents who could go on field trips because of my flexible work schedule. I was able to go on weekend camping trips with his class, and other Black parents kept asking me, “Please look after my child because I couldn’t get off from work.” What I also want to point out is that I didn’t know, until a white colleague told me, that there was a loan forgiveness program for people who work for schools, governments or nonprofits. I never applied for loan forgiveness until this year, but faithfully paid monthly for my student debt with interest that accrued faster than my payments.
While some Americans debate whether our nation can afford to forgive student loan debt, I’d like to remind them that working in public service ought to count for lessening student debt, especially after 10 years of public interest work, or 120 payments. Teachers, librarians, nurses, public interest lawyers, military members and other public workers all qualify. And why would anyone say these people, who choose careers to serve the public, don’t deserve to have their service recognized and appreciated through loan forgiveness? It is also true that Black students have more student debt due to the lack of generational wealth and face inequities after graduation. Black students, therefore, have more difficulty with repayment.
I don’t view this program as a government handout. I’d appreciate a closer look at interest rates that compound over years, leaving Americans in financial difficulties. I’d welcome educational loans that don’t include interest of any amount so that all Americans can be educated without 43 million of us carrying student loans totaling $1.6 trillion, according to federal figures. Loan payments were suspended during COVID-19, but our national life was also suspended during the pandemic. I continued to pay my student loans despite the suspension in an attempt to lessen the debt.
I would feel overjoyed to get any loan forgiveness in recognition of my contributions to community nonprofits in my working career, which also included promoting family.