Dr. Jessica Johnson: View on loans from campus

Like many who work in higher education, I have been closely following the progress of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. It’s definitely no surprise that this has become another bitter partisan battle as the program has been forced to delay debt relief just one week after 22 million borrowers applied.

Many Americans with college debt who are still struggling financially due to the aftereffects of COVID-19 would greatly benefit from this legislation, but they will have to wait as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is reviewing Nebraska v. Biden, the lawsuit against the president’s plan backed by several Republican-led states.

Legal experts have weighed in and said they are not sure how long the review will take, even though the court recently granted an emergency stay to begin assessing arguments. The delay is frustrating and stressful for borrowers who got much-needed relief with a payment pause during the height of the pandemic and qualify for up to $20,000 in loan forgiveness. Payments are scheduled to resume in January, and the court may not reach its decision by the beginning of the new year. Other legal challenges are also expected to follow.

With student loan forgiveness in legal limbo right now, the whopping $1.6 trillion that Americans have accrued in college debt looms even more as a growing crisis, and I believe it has some impact on the decreasing enrollment at colleges and universities throughout the country. College enrollment was declining before COVID, and after the pandemic hit in 2020, only 63% of high school students went straight to college, compared with 70% in 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

U.S. News & World Report data show that the average student loan debt for 2021 college graduates is close to $30,000. Thousands of dollars in debt is also the result of tuition costs continuing to skyrocket within the past 20 years. For example, U.S. News & World Report also found that in-state tuition and fees at public national universities, which would be among the top choices of many students who decide to stay home to save money, have increased 175%.

Times are very different from when I was a college student during the late 1980s. According to the Center for Online Education, in 1986 (the year before I was a college freshman), federal student loan debt was nearly $10 billion, which still was quite high but is completely dwarfed by what students owe today.

I was fortunate to get through college and graduate school with no student loan debt. I had a four-year academic scholarship while attending North Carolina Central University, a historically Black university in Durham, and my graduate tuition at Ohio State University was paid through one fellowship and several assistantships.

Leaning heavily on my Christian faith as a young person, I have always attributed this to God miraculously opening doors through my giving of tithes to my hometown church and the churches I attended while away in school. My family was solid middle class, and my mother was prepared to take out federal loans if needed, but we were blessed that we did not have to go that route.

I have some students who are examining the impact of student loan debt on their generation (Gen Z) for their analytical research papers in my freshman English composition courses at Ohio State’s Lima campus, and I am very interested in what their opinions on Biden’s proposal will be after they complete their projects, which will also include a symposium presentation.

We covered the college debt crisis in our most recent class discussions, and knowing that my students are well aware that tuition is a hefty cost, I was encouraged that they are motivated to continue their education. No one shared if they have taken out loans, but some mentioned that coming to OSU-Lima was the best choice for them due to the lower tuition for a branch campus.

On our discussion boards, students shared their career goals, which include aspirations of going into the fields of science, law and medicine. They believe that despite the current challenges of paying tuition to obtain a college degree, the financial sacrifices will be worth it.

As the Nebraska v. Biden case is ongoing, one obvious lesson we can take from it is that we need to continue working on making college more accessible to students. No one wants to be saddled with exorbitant student loan debt, and young people who desire to attend college deserve the opportunity to follow their dreams.

Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.