Opinion: Some community colleges erasing student debt

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Community colleges across the country are leveraging federal coronavirus relief dollars to forgive student debt accrued during the pandemic, a move some administrators hope will stanch continuing enrollment declines at the two-year institutions.

The money, available through both the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and the more recent American Rescue Plan Act, allows eligible colleges to wipe out student debt and provides grants directly to students in need.

At El Paso Community College in Texas, for example, administrators last month cleared more than $3 million in debt for roughly 4,700 students using CARES Act funding, then encouraged eligible students to apply for additional financial aid via allocations from the American Rescue Plan.

“We want to help students find the resources to emerge from the pandemic, regain financial stability and to be able to continue to pursue their dreams,” Keri Moe, the college’s associate vice president of external relations, communication and development, said in a statement.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Other two-year colleges have announced similar measures.

Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, a 17-campus system with a mix of two- and four-year colleges, has announced it forgive $17 million in debt that community college students “took on or could not repay because of the pandemic.”

The policy will impact more than 18,000 students, with no strings attached and no requirement that recipients enroll in classes in the future.

Enrollment at community colleges has suffered throughout the pandemic, with numbers continuing to slide despite widespread vaccine availability.

The continuing decline is a concern for community colleges, which typically see enrollment increases during recessions as unemployed workers return to school to learn new skills.

But the pandemic proved difficult for traditional community college students to weather.

“They lost jobs, suffered food insecurity, and lacked access to vital services — to say nothing of the devastating harm caused to those afflicted with the virus,” Dr. Jane Gates, provost and senior vice president of academic and student affairs at Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said in a statement.

Technical colleges in Madison and Milwaukee, the Community College of Philadelphia and Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J., have also announced plans to use federal dollars to cancel debt.

Some four-year colleges have also utilized relief money to erase debt.

“This is a tremendous weight I won’t have to carry,” Romaun Myers, one of more than 2,500 South Carolina State students to have debt cleared, told the university in a statement.

Kate Elizabeth Queram writes for Route Fifty, a digital news publication that aims to connect the people and ideas advancing state, county and municipal government across the United States. This story is part of the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. It originally appeared here.