Opinion Columns & Blogs

Trump’s budget harms students who have graduated into debt

Three years ago, I was walking across the stage at UCLA’s Royce Hall, accepting a master’s degree in public health. My MPH allowed me to return to the Central Valley, where I grew up, and eventually led to my current position at the University of California, Merced.

My work supports faculty research as well as community outreach, improving the combined efforts to improve our community’s health. My position brings me immense job satisfaction contributing to the success of our university.

What it does not include is high compensation.

As the daughter of a public school teacher, my career choices were always driven by purpose – not pay. With a variety of public servants in the family, from firefighters to junior college staff members, my mother’s commitment to her 20-plus-year career in public education has been unwavering. I am proud to follow in her footsteps, first in social services and now in higher education.

It’s a path I’ve not questioned, in part because of the availability of loan forgiveness.

I’ve been able to see my $70,000 in graduate student debt as manageable because of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, created 10 years ago by President George W. Bush to encourage graduates to pursue careers in social work, education, law or medicine. With debt relief in my future, I have been focusing on building a career with UC Merced, which needs staff to fulfill its mission to our students, faculty and region.

But after hearing the details of President Donald Trump’s federal budget, I fear that future – along with the future of over 500,000 other current PSLF enrollees – is now in doubt.

Among the many alarming impacts to education, including reduced Pell Grants and loss of campus daycare subsidies, is the complete elimination of the PSLF program. For undergraduate loans, debt relief comes after 15 years. For those of us with graduate degrees, we will be expected to pay for up to 25 years. But we often carry more debt and don’t always end up in highly compensated fields.

Under President Trump’s proposal, I won’t be eligible for loan forgiveness until 2039, when I’m 60 years old.

Tough decisions must be made with any president’s federal spending proposals, but graduates working in public service do not deserve years of financial burden implied by these changes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports fewer public sector positions available than before the 2007 recession, but increased public reliance on the services the public sector provides.

Do we want to create yet another barrier for social workers, doctors, teachers and public defenders, especially in places where they are hardest to recruit like the Central Valley?

Talk to students you know who are attending a college and call your senators to urge them to protect the PSLF. More on advocating for student loan forgiveness can be found on the American Bar Association website, www.americanbar.org/advocacy/governmental_legislative_work/loan4giveness.html

Amelia Johnson, a Turlock native, holds a Masters of Public Health degree from UCLA; she works as a project coordinator at UC Merced. She wrote this for The Merced Sun-Star.