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Biden eases student debt, financial stress remains

In the wake of the Biden administration announcing its plan to cover up to $20,000 in student debt for certain borrowers, some policymakers continue to question the decision while many Ohio University students recognize the benefits. 

The administration's plan includes up to $20,000 in debt cancellation for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for non-Pell Grant recipients who have an individual income of less than $125,000 or a household income of less than $250,000. The cancellation only applies to federal loans. 

Sophia Hoffman, a sophomore studying media arts production, has taken out federal loans and has been working three jobs to help pay for college. She said the decision will not affect her because of her parent’s income level but believes it's a good first step.

However, multiple Ohio politicians, including Senator Rob Portman-R, are not in favor of the administration's plans, citing unjust burdens on taxpayers and inflation concerns.

“According to Penn/Wharton, today’s action by the Biden administration will actually cost the American taxpayer $300 billion, saddling future generations with even more debt to pay off in the form of higher taxes,” Portman said in a press release

But for OU alumna Samantha Dick, who graduated in 2022 with an accounting degree, her student loan debt—totaling $90,000, not including future interest—is currently adding extra stress as she prepares for the next phase of her life. 

“It almost seems impossible to move out with the amount of loans that I will have to pay back,” Dick said. “My student loans are like a house payment once I start paying them back, so I feel like I’m slacking on my end when it comes to finding somewhere because I have so much to pay back.”

As a current student, Hoffman said that student loan debt has interfered with different aspects of her college experience. 

“I actually have three jobs, one is a remote one, but if I didn’t have that to support myself, I wouldn’t be able to participate in a lot of things here on campus or even in social things,” Hoffman said. “(Cost) is something that has gone into my decision, I’m trying to graduate a year early, and that’s just to save money.”

Hoffman and Dick are not alone. According to The Project on Student Debt, 69% of students at OU’s Athens campus graduated in 2020 with some amount of debt. The average total debt of OU’s 2020 class was $28,747. 

In Ohio, the average debt a 2020 graduate had was about $2,000 more than OU graduates. Ohio ranks 17th in the nation for the highest student debt.

Moreover, in the 2022-23 rankings, OU was ranked the Best Value Public School in Ohio by U.S. News and World Report based on many factors, including graduate’s average federal loan debt.

“Ohio University takes a holistic approach to delivering value, not only by offering the OHIO Guarantee, the state’s first fixed tuition and fees pricing guarantee, but also by partnering with students to ensure timely graduation through our OHIO Guarantee+ program,” Candace Boeninger, vice president for strategic enrollment, said in an email. “One of the goals of the program is to hold student debt as low as possible.”

Hoffman said scholarships from OU have helped her financially and made OU cheaper than many other colleges, even in her home state of Texas. However, those scholarships have come with other struggles, including making it difficult for her to switch her major as some of her scholarship money was tied to her being in a specific college.

Additionally, Dick said that as a first-generation student, it would have been helpful to have more outreach from OU concerning the best federal and private loans to utilize. 

“I’m a first-generation college student so my parents weren’t any help,” Dick said. “I feel like a lot of people have help from their parents who went to school and have a knowledge of that, whereas I didn’t have any of that.”

According to OU’s website, if any student has questions about loans, they can contact the Financial Aid office or look at resources here

Though Hoffman agreed with Dick’s sentiment, she said she recognizes that even with abundant financial-planning resources, college is expensive. 

“I feel like there is only a level of financial planning that will really help because when it comes down to it, you’re going to end up paying copious amounts of money, even if there is someone who is there to help,” Hoffman said. “I think that’s a first-order solution and the second-order solution would be to actually find the root of the problem and address that.”

Though for the time being, students and alumni like Hoffman and Dick are still dealing with the huge financial stress that is their student loans.

"It feels like the weight of the world is crashing down on me sometimes,” Hoffman said. “All I’m trying to do is get an education.”



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