More than 1.5 million Illinois residents applied for student loan forgiveness before President Joe Biden’s plan was put on hold amid legal challenges. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, Illinois leads the nation in applications for student loan debt relief. The state is also seventh in the country for outstanding student loan debt.
The forgiveness plan’s fate is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which just heard arguments on the case. If upheld, millions of borrowers across the country would stand to benefit, including many Latinos. Education Data Initiative reports 67% of Latino student borrowers have educational debt. According to the same report, 33% of those borrowers report putting off getting married and 37% report waiting longer to have children.
Horacio Mendez of the Woodstock Institute said that Illinois’ high rate of applicants for loan forgiveness could be due in part to Illinois institutions working hard to make loan holders aware of the program.
“I’ve noticed much more effort in Illinois to be able to get people educated about this than I have in some of the other states I’ve been in,” Mendez said. “So that’s a positive. With regard to the sheer numbers and its impact on Latinos, we have a very strong culture as it relates to money and debt, and it’s worked in our favor in the areas of debt burden and borrowing for school for quite some time. It may take longer, it might take a difficult balance between work and school.”
The nonprofit Bottom Line supports first-generation students from low-income backgrounds throughout the college application process. Bottom Line Chicago success program director Tiera Diaz said her work acting as a guide throughout the application process, including applying for financial aid, fills a significant gap.
“The process itself is pretty robust,” Diaz said, “and some of our students are lacking the critical guidance and support within schools and in communities to really understand the whole financial aid process and really have the financial knowledge that they need to make critical decisions about where they’re planning on going to school.”
Diaz said Bottom Line takes a proactive approach in minimizing student debt from the very earliest stages of the process.
“We work with students who are in high school preparing to make that college choice, to really understand what the cost of attendance is and what their options are,” Diaz said. “I think with public discourse on loans, there’s certainly a lot of fears regarding loans, and there is also a lack of resources regarding alternative plans to pay. And so our role is really just to ensure that students understand which institutions are the best fit for them financially, but are also aligned with our academic and career goals. And then I would say the next step is supporting students once they’re already in college. This is a prolonged effort — financial barriers continuously come up within a student’s educational career. And so we work with students one on one to ensure that they have a plan to pay for school in a way that really reduces that as much as possible.”
Mendez said in his view, the U.S. has a long way to go to catch up with its peer countries when it comes to ensuring the nation has an educated workforce.
“We need to sustain social security, our streets, our schools — that all boils down to an educated workforce, and high school doesn’t get us there,” Mendez said. “We need to recalibrate and have the same conversation we had as a country in the 1800s when we came to the same conclusion, made education through high school not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, which is what we’re dealing with right now.”
High school students meeting Bottom Line’s eligibility criteria are encouraged to apply for the nonprofit’s support program on its website.