Chris Schaefer is ready to embark on a master’s degree for their dream job. Hannah Mackey will see a reduction of her debt just before the arrival of her baby, but is still facing years of payments. Raynard Packard paid off his loans years ago but is grateful to see the burden of student loan debt lessened for others.
The Biden administration announced last week that up to $10,000 of federal student loan debt will be forgiven, and up to $20,000 forgiven for students who qualified for federal Pell grants. The plan could still face legal challenges but reactions have already poured out nationally, from those praising the action or saying it doesn’t go far enough, to those who believe students should not be let off the hook for money they agreed to pay back.
The USA TODAY NETWORK Ohio spoke with several Northeast Ohio students and graduates to better understand how the actions will impact them. Here’s what they had to say.
Chris Schaefer: Shedding $20,000 in federal student loans ‘is just a huge relief’
Chris Schaefer, 22, completed their undergraduate degree at Tiffin University in just 3½ years, including a semester studying abroad in Ireland.
Schaefer qualified for a federal Pell Grant, lessening the cost of a college degree, and their financial aid still applied during the semester abroad. Schaefer attended Bio-Med Science Academy, a high school in Rootstown on the campus of Northeast Ohio Medical University. They developed a love for science and criminal justice, studying both in college, but even with grants and finishing college early, they still needed about $43,000 in student loans. Of those, $23,000 were federal and another $20,000 private.
Schaefer graduated in December 2021 and has been working at a job in security and paying about $200 a month toward the private loans, as federal loans have been paused. With the loan forgiveness of up to $20,000 for students who qualified for Pell grants, Schaefer’s federal loans will be significantly reduced.
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“To go from $23,000 down to three or four thousand is just a huge relief,” Schaefer said Thursday. “I saw the news break yesterday and I was just so ecstatic.”
Their goal is to earn a degree in mortuary science and conduct death investigations. That would require more school. Schaefer knows taking on more debt is a risk but said it’s better than having regrets about a road not taken.
“I constantly worry about money,” Schaefer said. “I’m very, very frugal with how I spend my money. But I’m also a very, when I decide I want to do it, I will do it, kind of person.”
Schaefer also worked two jobs through college, so the relief now feels well-earned.
“I’m really happy because to me, it’s my hard work paying off,” Schaefer said. “I went absolutely crazy overworking myself, pushing myself to be the best student and the best worker and really engaging myself with the field I want to go into.”
After a tough family financial situation, Schaefer said they are just looking for stability, the same any person wants.
“I don’t think people really understand how dark and hopeless the future looks for people my age,” Schaefer said.
Karris McCollum: College education only possible with student loans
Karris McCollum was a first-generation college student whose parents wanted to help but didn’t know the ins and outs of college financial aid.
“I didn’t have a lot of guidance at that time about how to get the best kinds of loans or what to look for,” she said.
McCollum worked through school at the University of Akron, earned significant academic scholarships to bring her costs down and graduated early in December 2019 but still had to take out about $30,000 in loans for living expenses and the rest of her college tuition.
“I thought I was making a smart decision anyway because I was going into a field that was fairly lucrative,” she said.
She studied economics with a goal of going to law school. But as she completed her internships, she came to realize the law school track wasn’t for her. She wanted to travel and have the flexibility to move around, and doing so as a lawyer would be difficult because every state has its own bar exam. Going to law school also would have put her in significant further debt.
She wishes she had known more about shopping around for better interest rates, but overall does not regret taking out the loans.
“I wasn’t going to get an education without them,” she said.
McCollum is now living abroad, teaching English at a high school in Japan. Her teaching experience has pushed her to seek a master’s degree, but she plans to seek assistant teaching positions to offset tuition.
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“I’m still trying to bring that very practical mindset to my career goals, but then I’ve still got that big student loan thing that’s still in the way,” she said.
The relief will help knock out some of her loans completely and will lower the principal on others. Her first reaction to the news, she said, noting that it was a campaign promise of Joe Biden to forgive student debt, was “it’s about time.”
“I’m not sure we owe him all that much praise for getting around to finally instituting it although I’m glad that he finally did,” she said.
Raynard Packard: Student loan forgiveness is the right thing to do
Raynard Packard’s one-room apartment contained three pieces of furniture: a bed, a sofa and a Barbie Dreamhouse.
He and his daughter lived in the apartment together for five years starting when she was an infant and he was going through college and graduate school at the University of Akron.
“I understand the struggle is real,” said Packard, founder of the Packard Institute in Akron, which provides counseling and addiction recovery services.
It took him “every minute of 20 years” to pay back the loans he incurred even though, as an Army veteran, he was able to use the GI Bill to cover a portion of his tuition. He still remembers the tiny apartment, and has a lingering memory of his daughter crying at the zoo when he couldn’t buy her Dippin’ Dots. But going to college wasn’t an option, he said.
“I had to do it. I had to cover the cost,” Packard said. “I’ve been able to be a productive, tax-paying (individual) and start an agency and help thousands of people. I would not have been able to do that without my education.”
His daughter went on to have to take out her own loans for college. She’s now 30 and has just recently paid them off.
Even though neither he nor his daughter will benefit from the loan forgiveness, Packard said it was the right thing to do. He called it “substantial” but also a “modest proposal to just do some baseline relief.” He likened student loans to “indentured servitude.”
He doesn’t want to see others continue to suffer the same burdens he faced.
“For years we’ve been bailing out the corporations and the bank, the auto industry, the wealthy. Why can’t we extend the same consideration to Americans who are struggling to keep going, raise families?” he said.
Even though he couldn’t buy a home until he was into his 40s, Packard said he was grateful. The tiny apartment was fine, he said. It kept him and his daughter warm and dry.
“But it would have been nice to buy her Dippin’ Dots at the zoo,” he said.
Others weigh in from around the region
Jonathan Logan, 22, of Lisbon, greeted the news of student loan forgiveness with relief but also frustration.
Logan graduated from the College of Wooster this spring with a degree in physics and roughly $52,000 in student loans.
Though he is happy to have some help, Logan said he feels much of the discussion around student loans has become politicized and isn’t focusing on the bigger problem of valuing an education beyond its job prospects. He is hoping the conversation around loans is a tipping point to change the status quo.
“I think that people are trying to figure out why things are the way they are and why we haven’t demanded better from each other for all these years,” Logan said. “And now it’s kind of gotten to this point where 18-year-olds are allowed to take out a mortgage, but it’s for an education.”
Hannah Pratt, a 24-year-old from Millersburg, said she was excited and relieved by the news. She attended Lake Erie College for six years for undergraduate and graduate school to become a physician assistant and now has more than $150,000 in loans. She will soon begin a job at the Cleveland Clinic.
“The transition process from being in school to now getting a job and working and starting to pay things back, it’s been very intimidating,” Pratt said. “But it’s so relieving and just feeling like in the end, I will be able to pay it back and pay it forward.”
She wishes those who are opposed to the loan forgiveness would be more open minded.
“I think it’s hard, especially for maybe people who haven’t gone through the same circumstances, I guess it can seem unfair,” Pratt said. “But try and look at it from a situation where you’re going into the real world and all you have is negative money, and how truly intimidating and scary that can be.”
Walsh University freshman Fallon VanZant, on the other hand, disagreed with Biden offering the student loan forgiveness.
“That money can go to way better things in our community,” perhaps to address homelessness, said VanZant, who’s working on her bachelor’s degree in nursing.
VanZant isn’t borrowing money because of academic scholarships plus assistance from her family.
“Some parents have saved up for their entire lives for their kids to go to college and not to get a loan,” VanZant said, adding that it’s “just not fair for the ones who worked hard their entire lives to save up for college.”
Hannah Mackey, 26, of Plain Township, is a child care director with two degrees. While $10,000 of her $40,000 student loan debt would be forgiven, she’s still facing having to resume in January payments of hundreds of dollars a month. She is also expecting a baby. While the forgiveness makes a dent, she’s worried about what remains.
“Still $30,000 I have to pay either way,” she said. “I’m still in debt.”
Lacey Jackson, 31, a senior at Kent State Stark majoring in actuarial mathematics, is a Pell Grant recipient, so half of his roughly $40,000 in undergraduate student loans could be forgiven under the president’s executive action.
“That’s incredible,” he said. “It’s like cutting a bill in half. It just gives you some financial freedom.”
Kent Stark freshman Amber Lanctot, 18, who went to Lake High School and plans to be an English major, has loans but won’t benefit from the loan forgiveness. She incurred her roughly $2,000 in student loans to help pay for freshman year educational costs after the June 30 cutoff date for assistance. Only those with federal loan balances prior to July 1 can get the loan forgiveness.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Lanctot said about the loan forgiveness plan. But, “I think that we should definitely focus on loans (incurred) in the future.”
Canton Repository reporter Robert Wang and Wooster Daily Record reporter Rachel Keras contributed to this article. Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.