Should the federal government cancel student loans? See what Utahns think

Forgiveness of even partial federal student loans appears to be an extremely unpopular idea in Utah, according to the results of a recent Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted for the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

The poll results of 808 registered Utah voters reflected low levels of support for federal loan forgiveness for all borrowers and slightly higher support — 14% — for partial loan forgiveness. Partial loan forgiveness for low-income borrowers had the highest level of support, but even then it was only 17% overall and 25% among respondents with a college degree. graduate studies.

Only 11% of respondents said all federal student loans for all borrowers should be forgiven.

Forty-six percent of those who responded to the survey said the federal government should not forgive any student loans. The poll has a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

In some ways, the poll results were unsurprising given Utah’s history of low debt-per-borrower levels nationwide and low default rates.

But for borrowers like Anna Merrill, the poll results have been disappointing, especially as news reports speculate that President Joe Biden is set to announce some level of debt relief, possibly 10 000 dollars per borrower.

Merrill, a 2021 graduate of the University of Utah, works in educational administration. She has about $30,000 in student debt.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who are currently in school or have recently left school over the past five years, and from what I understand everyone is like, ‘This would make such a big difference in my life. They have no idea what it would mean to me if I got even a partial pardon. I could do this and that,” she said.

The scholarships helped pay for Merrill’s education during his first two semesters at the University. During her remaining college years, she worked part-time, and student loans covered the rest.

Merrill said she was “guarded” to hold out hope for student loan forgiveness. While federal student loan payments have been suspended since March 2020 and are expected to remain so through the end of August, Merrill said lifting the suspension when housing, fuel, food costs and medical expenses are so high will force some borrowers to make tough decisions.


Anna Merrill, a recent college graduate poses for a portrait at Fitts Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, May 30, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Above all, Merrill worries about future generations who are not eligible for financial aid and whose families do not have enough personal wealth to pay for their education.

“It breaks my heart to watch children and high school students see their hopes grow and then have the economic barrier … that prevents them from being able to go to school,” she said.

Lauren Santistevan, a 2013 graduate of Northern Arizona University, was recruited to work for Montage Deer Valley after earning her business degree. She has made regular payments on her student loans since, but still has an outstanding balance of nearly $30,000.

“I’m 100% on board for the loan forgiveness,” she said. “If you’re a certain age and you have a degree, you’re employed and you contribute to society, and you pay taxes in a timely manner, these loans are so huge that the average young adult may also have to integrate into their finances.

Even a partial pardon would be a huge help as she tries to save for a home in a time of record house prices, high fuel costs and other inflationary pressures, she said. .

“How am I supposed to buy a house with just the market the way it is? It’s so intimidating and gives a young person trying to buy a bit of hope, doesn’t it?” -she.

KSL Radio producer Ellie Cook is paying off her loans after graduating from the University of Utah in 2020. She received no scholarships or grants and owes about $30,000 in federal student loans.

Although she and other borrowers were granted a stay of payment under executive orders related to COVID-19 relief, Cook said she was not looking forward to making loan repayments. in addition to his other obligations such as his phone, insurance and medical bills. Cook lives with her mother, which has helped her save money, but her goal of having a place of her own seems a long way off given inflation, rising fuel and food prices and its other obligations.

Cook said the poll results were “surprising and a bit disappointing too. I understand where a lot of people come from when they’ve had to struggle to pay back their loans and everything. But at the same time, it’s been so crazy the last few years. Obviously the pandemic has really hit us and now inflation has taken a hit. … For me, personally, I don’t think relief for all loans should happen, but at least everyone gets some kind of relief.

Utah Higher Education Commissioner David Woolstenhulme said the poll results didn’t surprise him because many Americans believe debt is a personal responsibility.

The Utah Council on Higher Education has had no conversation about student loan forgiveness, let alone taken a position, he said.

On the contrary, the council and he as commissioner focus on improving the accessibility of higher education. Earlier this year, the Board of Education authorized the sale of the portfolio of the Federal Family Education Loan Program which was administered by the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority.

Proceeds from the sale will fund an endowment estimated at nearly $300 million that, in years to come, will help fund scholarships to reduce the cost of a college education.

The system also strives to keep tuition rates relatively low at state-supported colleges and universities. Compared to counterpart out-of-state institutions, costs in Utah are generally lower.

“I think we’ve done a really good job, but it still needs constant attention,” Woolstenhulme said.

Even with these efforts, “we still have students who don’t have access. For many, this is still too high. So what are we doing to help these students get scholarships and to be able to provide them with the financial support that they can access?

“That’s where we really focus, and that’s where we spend our energy, not so much on student loans that are already there to be forgiven, but how do we prevent students from going so far into debt? with student loans in the future?” he said.

In a related question, pollsters asked Utahns about the value of a college degree, which experts say increases earning potential, marketability and personal growth. Health outcomes are also associated with education levels.

When asked how important a college education was, 85% of Utahns said it was important, while 14% said it was not important. One percent said they didn’t know.

Woolstenhulme, who oversees the eight technical colleges and eight degree-granting colleges and universities in Utah’s higher education system, said the poll’s result also came as no surprise.

But “college” doesn’t necessarily mean a bachelor’s degree.

Woolstenhulme said educators, school counselors and families need to do a better job guiding students through institutions and programs.

“We need to have better conversations with our students from the start. ‘What do you really want to do?’ What we’re going to find out as we start having these honest conversations, there are a lot of students who should be in a tech college because that’s where their career aspirations lie – not because they’re not smart enough to go to the University of Utah, but because they want to be electricians or they want to work in heating, air conditioning, or they want to be auto mechanics or diesel or welders or those things,” he said.

“Too often we have kind of almost force-fed students in our degree-granting institutions where they don’t do well. That’s why the completion rate is where it is in my mind, we haven’t prepared students to succeed all the time.

About Judith J. George

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