MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — For many students, attending college comes with the stress of looming loan debt.
Northern Michigan University student Eddrick Tornes is one of them. He is taking summer classes at Muskegon Community College.
“The good thing about it is you don’t have to pay ‘til after you’re done,” he said. “But if you want to transfer, then it’s a hassle because you can’t get your transcripts until you pay that debt that you owe that school.”
Scholarships covered a lot of Tornes’ college costs, but not everything.
“I owe $2,500,” he said.
But $2,500 is nothing compared to the national average.
Students have racked up $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. The average student will owe about $37,000 by the time they graduate.
There’s not enough people to fill jobs requiring a degree or certificate, yet college costs get in the way of some who could fill those jobs. MCC officials hope their loan forgiveness program helps bring some of those students back to class.
“To remove that burden of the past, they’re able to move forward now and hopefully be part of that workforce,” said Ken Long, finance director for MCC.
Under the program, students who have not been enrolled at MCC in the last three academic years could have up to $1,200 in debt forgiven.
But they must meet some requirements: filing a Federal Student Aid form, maintaining a 2.0 GPA, and signing up for ongoing support services to help them keep their grades up and avoid future debt.
The program is open to students seeking degrees or certifications.
“We see this as an opportunity to remove barriers for student that previously attended MCC,” said Long.
MCC officials say those 4,000 eligible students owe about $3 million racked up over the last decade. The school writes off those debts after a few years.
MCC’s Debt Forgiveness Program is patterned after a program at Wayne State University.
But college loan forgiveness programs also have critics with a key question: Are they fair to students who paid their tuition bills?
“Everyone has a different situation, so I think this is the colleges way to help those students,” answers Long.
He says the program is designed to help the community as well.
“It’s not just about helping the individual. People with degrees, they’re able to contribute more significantly not only for themselves, but for the community as a whole,” he explained.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated people were eligible if they have been enrolled in the last three years. People who have not been enrolled at MCC in the last three academic years are eligible for the forgiveness program. The story has been corrected. We regret the error.