Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

If only I’d known earlier: State should help promote awareness of student-loan-forgiveness programs

Staretta Ann Taylor-Cooper

Seven years is a long amount of time. Babies grow into children in seven years. That length of time would cover nearly two full presidential terms. Seven years is also a long time to be an African-American woman with more than $80,000 in student loan debt with no end in sight.

That’s how long it took me to discover the resources available to me as a public school teacher to lessen my student loan debt, and more importantly, to forgive portions of my student loan debt.

I heard about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program during an African American Educators Forum (AAEF) meeting. AAEF is a subcommittee within Education Minnesota’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee (EMAC), which advises my union’s governing body on issues related to racial disparities in education and the achievement and opportunity gaps. I joined the forum after attending an end-of-the-year celebration that AAEF hosted. The forum exists to provide educators of color, specifically African-American educators, with an outlet where we can work on issues that are specific to our community.

Hits African-Americans particularly hard

Student loan debt is an issue for many people, but it’s one that hits the African-American community particularly hard. More than 40 percent of African-Americans between the ages of 25-55 had student loan debt in 2013, compared to 28 percent of whites. When you take into account the fact that white families have, on average, seven times the wealth of African-American families, the jaws of student loan debt seem to grip even tighter around folks of color trying to pay off their debt.

When I was introduced to the PSLF Program, my first thought was, “Here we go again with another loan forgiveness scheme.” But after hearing some testimonials from folks who actually received lower payment plans, I decided to give it a shot.

Completing the online application seemed easy, but part of me was worried I was clicking on the wrong links or entering information that wasn’t correct. Most of my fears were alleviated when my student loan servicer sent me an email confirming they’d received my application and would process it once all required documents were received. While there were a few bumps along the road, the process was straightforward enough for me to feel that I’d filled everything out correctly.

Considering the average starting salary for a teacher in Minnesota is around $34,500, and my student loan bills were coming in at around $369 every month, it’s no wonder I was nervous about crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s when it came to applying for student loan forgiveness.

Estimates from my union show that a new teacher with the state average of $32,000 in student loan debt could save as much as $20,000 in monthly loan payments and in forgiveness if she were able to enroll right away in PSLF. For teachers earning a master’s or additional licenses with around $70,000 in debt, that savings could be much higher, especially after you factor in interest rates.

Results: A big help

After three weeks of crossed fingers, the results were in: My student loan payments were reduced by $112.59 per month, leaving me with a monthly payment around $250.

My student loan repayment plan isn’t perfect. I was hoping my payments would be lowered to about $200 per month. But it is a start in the right direction. I just wish I would have started in this direction sooner than seven years after I started my teaching career.

If I had been made aware of the loan forgiveness options available to me as a teacher when I first started, the last seven years of my life would have been different. I wouldn’t have struggled as much financially, and there would have been a much lighter weight on my shoulders when it came to my mountain of student loan debt.

HF 2576 would increase awareness

A bill has been proposed in the Minnesota House of Representatives during this legislative session that would require distribution of materials designed specifically to increase awareness of federal loan forgiveness programs, such as the PSLF. HF 2576 would require employers to inform employees about their potential eligibility for student loan forgiveness. This is step in the right direction if we are truly serious about addressing the teacher shortage and increasing educators of color in Minnesota.

I’m happy that my student loan bills are lower than they were a few months ago. However, I still can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if this bill had been law when I started my career. The stress and anxiety of student loan debt affects far too many educators. I believe we can better serve our students and focus on the issues that matter to them once the heavy burden of crippling debt is lifted.

I may not be able to see the end of the tunnel just yet, but at least I’m closer than I was before. For now, I urge lawmakers to pass HF 2576 this legislative session.

Staretta Ann Taylor-Cooper received her B.A. in elementary education in 2008 at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and started teaching in urban charter schools. She later received her master’s degree in 2010 in early childhood education from the University of Phoenix. Taylor-Cooper has taught pre-K through third grade, and is currently a pre-kindergarten educator at Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary in St. Paul. She has been teaching for nearly seven years in urban schools, and is planning to pursue a doctorate.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/11/2016 - 09:10 am.

    The bill referenced here appears to be color-blind

    …as a reading of it at the link provided made no reference to race. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    The author’s statement, “This is step in the right direction if we are truly serious about addressing the teacher shortage and increasing educators of color in Minnesota.” left me wondering on that point.

    The individuals straining under the excessive burden of college loan debt ALL deserve relief, and this legislation, while laudable in informing students where relief might be available, provides none of that relief, as far as I can tell. So it’s a good thing, but doesn’t go far enough.

    The college financing schemes are completely out of hand. I can remember – many long years ago – a time when far more public monies were available to pay for college expenses. The NDEA comes to mind, a program to pursue a national interest. It now seems to have evolved into a real money-maker, at the expense of the students.

  2. Submitted by Britter Ritter on 04/11/2016 - 02:22 pm.

    Also

    People should know that if they become disabled by illness, there is a simple form online for their doctor to fill out which will discharge all their student loan debt. It’s called something like Disability Discharge form. They don’t want people to know about it. It works.

  3. Submitted by Ben Gustafson on 04/11/2016 - 05:05 pm.

    Clarification

    I think there should be a little clarification regarding the PSLF program as discussed in this article. The PSLF program itself does not lower monthly payments, rather it forgives any remaining balance on any outstanding eligible loans (Federal Direct Loans, not FEEL or Perkins or commercial loans) after 120 qualifying payments have been made. It should also be noted that no one has actually completed the PSLF program as it was implemented in 2007 and the earliest that anyone would be eligible to receive the forgiveness would be in 2017. For more general information regarding the PSLF program check out the following link https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service.

  4. Submitted by Michael Hess on 04/12/2016 - 05:15 am.

    Blame game

    Glad the author has decided to go into education, we need more committed teachers in the school. I worry a bit about this notion though that it should have been the responsibility of the employer to make her aware of this program.

    What if a brochure handed out with new employee orientation goes unread amongst the many other startup tasks, should thr school then be responsibie to remind people annually? Will the schools compliance be monitored and what’s the penalty for not providing the materials?

    lastly and I only bring this up because the author emphasized throughout the article the disproportionate benefit this may have for POC who may have higher loan balances, will failure to successfully notify employees be a civil rights violation? Far fetched perhaps but unintended consequences have come about for less.

Leave a Reply