Author: Pat Dooris, David Mann
PORTLAND, Ore. — President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced plans to cancel thousands of dollars in student loans for millions of Americans. The plan impacts hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, and it has undoubtedly drawn a wide range of opinions.
During his announcement from the White House, Biden said he’ll cancel $10,000 in debt for individuals earning less than $125,000 a year, or families earning less than $250,000. Pell Grant recipients will get an additional $10,000 debt cancellation.
There are 552,100 people with student loans statewide with an average balance of $37,900, according to the nonprofit Student Borrower Protection Center. The total student loan debt owed by Oregonians is nearly $21 billion, and not everyone is keeping up.
The nonprofit said 8% of those borrowers are in default, which comes out to more than 44,000 people.
A woman named Debbie told KGW that she has been struggling to pay her student loan from the early 2000s.
“I was looking to get back into the workforce after raising my kids. And so I went to college, did four years, and in four years I took out $26,000 worth of loans,” she said. “I set up those loans on an automatic repayment plan. They automatically come out of my bank every month, so I don’t have to think about sending a check. My payments have been $200 a month and I’ve been paying that loan for 16 years and now my balance is still $23,000.”
With such a low monthly payment, she has now paid $38,400 over the past 16 years. Her loan balance only went down $3,000, and the remaining $35,400 went to interest payments.
Debbie said she was thrilled to hear about Biden’s plan to cut $10,000 from her balance.
Tammi Fierro is a senior at Portland State University working on her environmental science degree, and she was also happy to learn she may be getting a dent in her roughly $40,000 student loan.
Fierro said she got poor grades in high school, so her only options were to borrow the money for college or not go.
“That would actually be amazing. $30,000 is a lot more manageable than $40,000. It doesn’t seem like a big change, but the average price of a car is $30,000 and people pay that off. That’s like 10 grand towards a house, which would be amazing.”
Matt Berger has been paying off his loans for about five years. He started with a balance of $20,000 and now owes about $16,000.
“I think for me it’s fantastic, and for a lot of people as well,” he said.
Some folks who went to college 30 or 40 years ago wonder why students can’t just work their way through the loans like they did.
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A recent report from Georgetown University looked at the cost of college tuition since 1980. It found that tuition has skyrocketed in comparison to the average salary of young adults.
The enormous gap between the two is a big part of the problem.
KGW viewer Rick Lindsley did his own comparison and came up with the same result. He found that his daughter, now a college senior, simply could not pay her way through school like he did.
“We had a college fund set up for her, but it was woefully underfunded because we started it 20 years ago when we thought the costs would be less, and we were wrong,” Lindsley said. “She’s having to work 20 to 30 hours a week just to make end’s meet.”
But that’s not to say it’s impossible for students to pay their way through.
College senior Hannah Morelos owes $7,000 in student loans. She’s one of 11 children, but only the second in her family to go to college. She started with two years of community college and used Pell Grants, scholarships, jobs and other means to pay most of her way through.
“Worked until I couldn’t anymore. I don’t know. Just like hustling and finding opportunities, ’cause they’re out there, and then if there’s extracurricular programs too, that will sometimes give a stipend as well if you do join. And it could line up with your field of interest as well.”
Meanwhile, some people emailed KGW to say they didn’t like Biden’s plan.
A viewer named Michelle wrote: “I would have loved to have gone to a swanky ivy-covered college — but I opted for an education at a state university, and I worked part-time while carrying a full load for four years. Didn’t have to go into debt because my parents taught all of us kids to save every penny we earned.”
Another viewer, Joseph, wrote: “Nobody forced you people to go to college — a lot of people go to college just to party. Well, the party tab is now comin’ due … so people, pay your bills.”
There were also reactions that were more sympathetic to those with student debt.
“Why is it that over the past 20 years college tuition has increased at a rate far higher than inflation,” viewer David wrote. “It seems like colleges have taken advantage of the student loan programs to hike prices to levels which often exceed the value of the product.”
A viewer named Bob had a broader take on the issue. He wrote: “If we can bail out the banks, the big corporations and the oil companies and all of the airlines two different times over the last 15 years … then to help college students that have a huge debt. I think it’s a drop in the bucket.”