How will the new federal loan reforms affect local college students?
on April 13, 2010
Jurena Storm grew up in Oklahoma but came to California to finish her senior year of high school at St. Elizabeth High School in Oakland with the hope of qualifying for in-state tuition at a California state school. She did well in high school and graduated with honors, she said, but not everything went as planned. Instead, as Storm put it, “life happened.”
Storm told her story Tuesday at an Organizing For America press conference held at Laney College to highlight the local impact of the student loan reforms that are a part of the new Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act signed into law by President Obama last month.
Storm, who is now 35, said that two weeks after her high school graduation she gave birth to her daughter, Anika, who will turn 16 this week. With a child depending on her, Storm said she decided the most responsible thing to do was to start working right away. “I felt it was necessary to be able to support me and her,” she said. “There’s programs and there’s help, but I’m from the Midwest. We work. That’s what we do, so it’s like, ‘Okay, now you have a family, this is what you need to do.’”
Now Storm is back in school. She began studying political science at the College of Alameda in the fall of 2008. It has been a struggle, Storm said, for her and her husband to make her student loan payments — she has some left over from a previous attempt to return to school — while supporting a family of four on only her husband’s income. For Storm, that changed last month when President Obama signed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) into law as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act.
Effective immediately, the new regulations cap loan payments at 15 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income and reward responsible borrowers — those who never miss a monthly payment — by forgiving any remaining loan balance after 25 years. After July 31, 2014, loan payments will be capped at 10 percent and responsible borrowers will have their loans forgiven after 20 years.
“It’s a relief,” Storm said of the payment cap. “This was a promise made and a promise kept. I’m satisfied.”
Organizing for America, or OFA, is a community organizing group funded by the Democratic National Committee that recruits and trains volunteers to canvass, call, and rally in support of the Democrats’ federal legislation initiatives. OFA is focused on local grassroots initiatives. The organization employs ten people in California and just opened its Northern California office at 1714 Telegraph Ave in Oakland.
“We have such an amazing base of support in Northern California, and especially in the Bay Area,” said OFA’s California communications director, Emily Dulcan. “It was really important to have a physical space where our volunteers could come together in a community to support each other but also to have a space for trainings.”
Jeff Harry, the regional field director for OFA, lauded the 2.7 million volunteers, thousands of whom were from California, that made calls, conducted canvasses and held rallies in support of the Health Care and Reconciliation Act. He also said that a provision in the bill that makes all federal student loans part of the inexpensive Direct Loan program is projected to save taxpayers $61 billion over ten years and to reduce the federal deficit by $10 billion in the same time period.
Harry was speaking mostly to the handful of press that had shown up for the event—almost no students had gathered in front of the stage to listen to the speakers. A few students sat scattered around the sunny quad at Laney’s downtown Oakland campus. Two young men who were sitting on a bench behind the stage where the speakers had stood said they didn’t know anything about the legislation and didn’t think it would affect them. One of them, Laney student Keven Johnson, 19, didn’t see any reason the bill would affect him next year. Even if it hadn’t passed, he said, “I think I’d be doing the same thing I’m doing – just going to school and trying to maintain.”
Johnson said he wasn’t sure exactly how he paid for school, though he said it was through a combination of grants and scholarships, and that he didn’t have any loans. “My mother helps set it up,” said Johnson, who lives at home in San Francisco.
This is common at Laney, where fewer than 100 of the college’s 14,000 students qualified for federal loans last year, according to Eliza Chan, a spokesperson for the school. “Last year, more than 2,600 students received Pell Grants. For 2010, we are expecting more than 3,000 Pell Grants,” Chan wrote in an email, referring to the federal grants available to low-income students that do not need to be paid back.
“Many students participate in the work-study program on campus,” she wrote. “Others have jobs outside campus. Most of our students work.”
Ferlenn Ivy, 26, was eating lunch on the other side of the quad with classmate Sabrina Hunter, 21. Neither had loans, but both had heard about the legislation, and said they thought it was a good thing even though it wouldn’t change their financial situations.
Hunter said she lives at home and is paying for her degree in art and music with the help of a Pell Grant. SAFRA raises the highest possible Pell Grant amount a few hundred dollars to $5,500 in 2010 from $5,350 in 2009.
Ivy, who graduated from Laney recently, said he paid for school by working on campus and with the help of Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), a program that “provides support services to California Community College students who are educationally and/or economically disadvantaged,” according to the California Community Colleges website. An Army veteran who served as a combat medic in Afghanistan, Ivy is now waiting to hear if he’s been accepted to the Registered Nurse program at Laney.
“Obama said [SAFRA] would help with saving lots of money – billions, right – so I guess that’s good,” Ivy said. “I’m trying to get into an RN program now though, so I want something to help that out.”
Lead image: Jurena Storm, a student at College of Alameda, explains what student loan reform means to her.
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