Loans aren’t being forgiven; UMN professional students want to know why

The University’s Professional Student Government is urging administrators to look into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Michelle Griffith

Around 30,000 people nationwide applied to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program this year. As of June 2018, less than 1 percent of people have been approved for the program by the U.S. Department of Education.

Now, University of Minnesota professional students — many of who aim to go into careers that qualify for PSLF — are demanding answers. 

The University’s Professional Student Government passed a resolution last month urging University administration to determine why so few applicants qualified for PSLF. Earlier this month, PSG President Alanna Pawlowski met with the President Eric Kaler’s Office to discuss the resolution. 

Pawloski said it is University officials’ responsibility to seek answers because the University has encouraged students to apply for the PSLF program. 

“There is some responsibility on the University to help its students figure out how to navigate this in the future,” Pawlowski said. She said the University has been receptive to PSG’s requests. 

PSLF was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2007. It allows people who pursue public service jobs — such as positions in government, schools or non-profits — not to pay the remaining balance on loans accrued from college. 

“We tend to take out more loans for our studies, rather than receiving stipends from our departments,” Pawlowski said of professional students. “Many professional students are told by our schools, or by our departments in particular, that one option for managing our loans for after graduation would be if we go into public service work.” 

Applicants can qualify for PSLF if they make 120 monthly payments for their direct loans while working full-time, following specific program qualifications.Because applicants have to make 10 years’ worth of payments, 2017 was the first year applicants could qualify for the program, and results were released last summer. 

But the low number of applicants who qualified for the program prompted 150 Democrats in Congress to sign a letter released in October urging Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to provide more information about the process. 

As of November, the Department of Education is offering a temporary opportunity for denied PSLF applicants to get their loans forgiven. Applicants must send an email requesting the government to reconsider their applications.

The Government Accountability Office released a report in September about their investigation of the program.

The report calls for more transparency from the federal government on the program, similar to what many University professional students are asking for.

PSG passed their resolution after learning the majority of people who applied did not qualify for PSLF. 

“I’m a student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, which is primarily students who are looking to enter government to do some sort of public service,” said Michael Sund, a PSG member who proposed the resolution. “We typically are folks that could for instance switch to a [different] degree … and make considerably more money, but a lot of folks chose the public sector or non-profit out of some sort of feeling that they’re making the community a better place.”

Sund said the Department of Education has failed to provide clear reasoning explaining why so many applications were rejected. He said students were told that many applicants did not apply under the right type of loan or make appropriate payments. 

“I guess I just don’t understand,” Sund said. “I just want answers in general, like, ‘Why?’” 

 Corrections: A previous version of this story misspelled the PSG president’s name. Alanna Pawlowski is the PSG president. 

A previous version of this story wrongly attributed information to the GAO report. The information came from the Democrat Education Workforce and blamed the Trump administration for the number of rejected PSLF applications.