San Joaquin Delta College, $3.6M. Wallace State Community College, $600,000. Bergen Community College, $5M. San Diego Community College District, $3.9M. Hudson County Community College, $4.9M. Quinsigamond Community College, $2.5M. Everett Community College, $1.2M. Tallahassee Community College, $6M. Pima Community College, $2.7M. These are just a few of the nation’s community colleges that have opted to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to eliminate student debts.
Not every community college accumulates a lot of student debt, but community colleges have close contact with impoverished students. Less like traditional university students, community college students often work their way through school. They may also have families to support and other expenses that make it difficult to pay attendance costs. And community college students are frequently unaware of financial aid programs that can reduce or eliminate their attendance costs. So, in the space of a semester, a community college student could accumulate hundreds or even thousands of dollars in student debts.
So, the argument for wiping out debts that students and former students owe is reasonable. Accumulated debt prevents students from moving forward with their educations. Without a degree, the students are often unable to earn enough to repay what they owe. Typically, people with outstanding student debts cannot transfer their credits to other institutions, either. So, these students can’t go forward; they can’t go back, and they can’t walk away.
Clearing out past due balances allows these students to finish their degrees or transfer their credits elsewhere for a fresh start. It also relieves them of debts they cannot settle or discharge by other means, like bankruptcy. Additionally, using federal funds to repay student debts offers the obvious benefit of cash to the institution.
A rich community can afford to eliminate student debts
It’s so easy for a community college student to fall behind on their accounts. That’s why it’s difficult to reconcile this reality with the approach that Washtenaw Community College administrators have adopted. By characterizing the Washtenaw Community College District as a “rich community” and using federal COVID-19 dollars to cover debts incurred by the Health and Fitness Center, they make it difficult to see where the students fit in.
Like all other federal relief recipients, WCC must adhere to regulations on the distribution of some of the funding. These regulations include the direct distribution of funds to students to assist with both educational and living expenses. But freezing in-district tuition isn’t the same as allowing a student to graduate “debt-free.” For an institution that makes a point of using federal COVID-19 relief funds to wipe out its own debts, it should also give some thought to eliminating its student debts.
Photo Credit: Chris Potter, via ccPixs.com