San Diego Community College program to waive thousands of students' debt
Speaker 1: (00:00)
A new tuition debt forgiveness program at San Diego community colleges as being called a lifeline for struggling students, the colleges will be forgiving $3.9 million in student debt, more than 11,000 students who were enrolled last spring through summer in city Mesa or Miramar community colleges will have their outstanding payments waived. The district is using federal pandemic relief funds to cover the debt. Officials say the program will make it possible for thousands of students to continue their college educations. Joining me is San Diego community college district chancellor, Carlos Turner, Cortez, and welcome chancellor Cortez.
Speaker 2: (00:42)
Good morning. Thank you so much for having us, Maureen
Speaker 1: (00:45)
And also joining us as associated student government president at Miramar college. Edward Boruch Edward welcome I'm morning wearing so chancellor, why did the district decide a program like this was needed?
Speaker 2: (00:59)
The COVID pandemic has unfortunately produced many negative outcomes for higher education institutions. We're seeing enrollments plummet. We're seeing students struggle to focus on their schoolwork when they have various external pressures that are preventing them from being successful. And we are very lucky to have received $140 million roughly in federal stimulus funding, 50 million of which is required to go directly to students in, in cash aid. We are using portion of the institutional funds to eliminate student debt because we realized that one of the obstacles that prevent students from re-enrolling in making progress towards their degree of certificate is the debt that they're burdened with. And part of that debt in the instance of 11,000 plus students is debt that they owed to the college for library fines or past duke tuition fees. And we thought if we have this unique opportunity to erase that debt, why not maximize that opportunity to support our students during these difficult times
Speaker 1: (02:00)
And chancellor, how will the debt forgiveness program work, who qualifies?
Speaker 2: (02:04)
These are 11,454 students who are enrolled in our college is 2021 will have their outstanding tuition and related enrollment fees. Forgiven holds for non-payment will be removed and students will be eligible to enroll in the January intercession and spring 22 semester. So we're currently in the process of notifying students who may not have enrolled this past fall because they knew they owed the college money by releasing this debt. It removes any holes from their account and allows them to re-enroll and it gives them a fresh start, a clean start to re-engage in the community college and to refocus themselves on their educational personal and career goals.
Speaker 1: (02:45)
Can you give us an idea of how much an average student who qualifies for this program might? Oh,
Speaker 2: (02:51)
It ranges significantly. I mean, it could be as little as, you know, five to $10 for a library theme, it's a several hundred dollars, thousands of dollars based each individual circumstance. But you know, we, we are committed to supporting the whole student here in our college district. Unfortunately we're required to charge these fees in order to ensure that we're making the best use of public dollars. But with this unique opportunity with stimulus funding, we're being allowed to use this funding to re-engage students who may have been disconnected from higher education during the COVID pandemic. And so we're using this unique opportunity with supplemental funding to ensure that our most vulnerable students can return to.
Speaker 1: (03:30)
Now in the announcement about the debt forgiveness program, you said community college students in particular would benefit from this help because many are from underserved communities. Can you tell us more about that?
Speaker 2: (03:43)
Yes. You know, community colleges serve a wide span of students, but, um, I think most people are aware that the most vulnerable students who pursue higher education often, uh, come through the community college student because we're, we're a full access institution. Anyone who walks through our doors, we will serve at our three credit colleges, San Diego city, college city, or Mesa college at San Diego Miramar college, along with our very large non-credit division of the college of continuing education, we serve over a hundred thousand students per year, about 11,000 of those students, unfortunately were not able to enroll in the fall because they have pending debt. And we know many of these students are eager to return to school, but their personal financial circumstances that their need for childcare and transportation and housing in many cases are more important, um, to the immediate needs of our students. And so by eliminating this debt, we're helping students once again, to get a fresh start and to re-engage their journey to realize their personal goals.
Speaker 1: (04:44)
Now, Edward, your student government president at Miramar college, you get to hear a lot of students' stories. They talk to you. How important do you think this debt forgiveness program is?
Speaker 3: (04:55)
It's immensely important? Um, you're right. That I get to speak with my fellow students all the time. In fact, yesterday we had an on-campus event outside and several dozen students that I spoke with directly, you know, their stories of where they come from and where they want to go hinges on what they do at our local community colleges. And having as Dr. Cortez said even five or $10, keeping them from pursuing that education, this decision to forgive $3.9 million in student debt is something that is going to be so impactful for my student peers, um, because they will be able to go on and do the things that they want to do. And again, that barrier to access of five to $10 for library book or several hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars for tuition that can change someone's life.
Speaker 1: (05:42)
When you share with us, maybe someone's personal story about struggling to keep up with tuition during the pandemic.
Speaker 3: (05:50)
Yeah. You know, as you said with the pandemic, so many students have been victims of circumstance of the pandemic, and I wouldn't be able to just pick out one because there are so many, and that really is the tragedy here, but the STCC is taking steps to rectify that and to help students who either lost a job or their parents lost a job. Um, in fact, one member of our student government that was elected at the end of last year to serve this year, had to withdraw from all classes because both her parents lost their jobs. And she had to take up a second job that didn't leave time to take classes. And that right there, you know, if her family had access or better access to financial assistance, then maybe that student would have been able to continue with her education, continue to advocate for her fellow students as I am doing. And her life would be a lot different.
Speaker 1: (06:43)
I ask you both a question, you know, there's a continuing push from some politicians to erase all student debt and make public colleges free chancellor. Do you think that should be the ultimate goal?
Speaker 2: (06:55)
Yes, yes. Yes. Um, you know, California community colleges used to be free. And even though the cost per student to enroll is relatively low and in roughly 70% of our students pay no enrollment fees whatsoever, there are other costs associated with education, um, that aren't taken into consideration, particularly for our community college systems. You know, here in the state of California, we invest significantly more resources in K-12 students in the Cal state and the UC system. But we don't recognize the, the real financial challenges that our community college students face when they enroll in our community colleges. They don't receive support again with housing, transportation, childcare, groceries, healthcare. And so by eliminating the cost of tuition, we certainly would provide an advantage to the most vulnerable students in our community to help them to transform their lives and the lives of their families for generations to come.
Speaker 2: (07:50)
So yes, absolutely. Our district, uh, was one of the first districts in the country to launch a promise campaign. I'm proud to announce that this past fall, we raised $1 million to expand our free community college program beyond what the state is funding to encourage, uh, adult learners who may not have been college ready when they came out of high school to have a second chance to enroll in free community college. So we're doing our part here in San Diego, and we're thrilled to learn that there's increasing support around the country to expand free community college opportunities to students
Speaker 1: (08:25)
And Edward. What kind of difference do you think free community college had made
Speaker 3: (08:29)
All the difference in the world? Really? You know, nobody bats an eye at saying K through 12 schools should be free and open to all people who live in this country. And a higher education degree is no longer a luxury. It's a necessity for so many fields. Making community colleges free for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status or citizenship is going to open up doors for our country as a whole to progress into the 21st. And it is removing a very large barrier to access for so many.
Speaker 1: (09:00)
Well, I want to thank you both so much for speaking with me. I've been speaking with San Diego community college district, chancellor, Carlos Turner, Cortez and associated student government president at Miramar college. Edward Burrick. Thank you both.
Speaker 3: (09:13)
Thank you, Maureen. Very much. Thank you for having us.
The San Diego Community College District is forgiving $3.9 million in student debt for 11,454 students at San Diego City College, Mesa College and Miramar College.
The program will forgive outstanding tuition and related enrollment fees for students who were enrolled in the spring through summer 2021 semesters. Holds for non-payment will also be removed so students can return to school and enroll in the January intersession and spring 2022 semesters. The district is using federal pandemic relief funds to cover the debt.
SDCCD Chancellor Carlos O. Turner Cortez and Associated Student Government President at Miramar College Edward Borek, spoke with KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday, and said the program will make it possible for thousands of students to continue their college education.
"We realized that one of the obstacles that prevent students from re-enrolling and making progress towards their degree or certificate is the debt that they're burdened with," Chancellor Cortez said. "Part of that debt in the instance of 11,000-plus students is debt that they owe to the college for library fines or past-due tuition fees. We thought if we have this unique opportunity to erase that debt, why not maximize that opportunity to support our students during these difficult times."
Chancellor Cortez said the amount of debt owed per student ranges anywhere from $5-$10 for a library fee, to thousands of dollars for tuition.
Borek said his fellow students' frequently share their life goals with him, and said that their future is based on what they do at local community colleges.
"This decision to forgive $3.9 million in student debt is something that is going to be so impactful for my student peers, because they will be able to go on and do the things that they want to do," Borek said. "That barrier to access $5-$10 for a library book, or several hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars for tuition, will change someone's life."
Chancellor Cortez said they are currently in the process of notifying students who may not have enrolled this past fall because of owing the college money.