Student debt forgiveness discussed on Beacon Hill

BOSTON — While the country waits to see if the Biden administration makes good on their promise to cancel student loan debt, the battle wages on here at home.

“It was either the bills in my house and my lights and my food or my student debt. And guess what? I wasn’t choosing my student debt,” said Karen Chacon who grew up in Jamaica Plain to immigrant and working-class parents.

She says she had to take out thousands in loans to pay for her undergraduate and graduate education. Chacon is now the Executive Director of Latinos in STEM but at a huge cost.

“I’ve done all different kinds of nonprofit work from direct service mentoring, volunteer engagement kind of work to fundraising and alumni relations and all these different things. So things in the larger career world don’t really get paid a lot of bucks to do,” said Chacon.

The Joint Committee on Higher Education heard testimony on several bills aimed at giving borrowers a way out. A bill out of the office of the state treasurer would study the debt load of students at a single UMass campus to investigate the impact of total forgiveness. A senate bill discussed last month would create a grant program to pay the tuition and fees for students attending a state college or university, or enrolled in a certificate, vocational or training program at a public institution.

“Some of these proposals could potentially help but I think they’re just a bandaid on a much larger issue,” said Chacon. “I’m not personally paying my student loans right now because I philosophically believe that we shouldn’t be paying all this money back when there should be opportunities for people to get an education at a much lower rate.”

An April 2020 survey by loan servicer Lending Tree found 50% of likely voters polled say mass student loan forgiveness is unfair to former borrowers.

Republicans on Capitol Hill say it would cost too much money to cancel an estimated $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. Representatives from the Massachusetts delegation, and several Boston area cities and towns have passed ordinances urging the White House to act.

Concerns over student debt load were cited as a contributing factor in a dip in college enrollment numbers in the state. An October Department of Education report shows a 7% drop--the largest single-year decrease since they’ve been collecting data.

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