Clatsop Community College is looking to eliminate more than $400,000 in student debt, an initiative that could provide financial relief for more than 500 students impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The relief is aimed at students with unpaid account balances who were enrolled at the start of the pandemic emergency declaration on March 13, 2020 through this year’s spring term. The amounts that students owe range from just a few dollars to several thousand. The highest amount owed is $7,027.
The debt-elimination initiative comes from a one-time Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund award through the U.S. Department of Education.
After seeing a major drop in enrollment tied to the pandemic, the college is attempting to remove barriers to students’ return to school, college leaders said.
“Many of our students experienced tremendous financial hardships last year due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Jerad Sorber, the college’s vice president of student services, said in a statement, “and we hope that forgiving current unpaid student account balances will help alleviate some of their financial burdens and allow many to continue their education.”
There is no doubt the pandemic has had a major impact on students, Sorber said. In a normal year, the college might have around 120 students with outstanding balances.
Usually, the college would begin to refer people to collections and charge the usual late payment fees. All of this was suspended last year.
“Right now, for those students, over the last year we’ve really just been letting it sit in order to create some room for folks,” Sorber said.
The college also opted to keep tuition rates for the 2021-22 academic year the same as last year.
The college sent letters to 519 students informing them of the debt forgiveness option. Students will need to reply to the letter by Friday to agree to the college using federal funds to pay down the owed amount.
“We are doing everything we can to make life easier for our students, and hope that by doing these things, they will be able to stay on track to complete their degrees,” Chris Breitmeyer, the college president, said in a statement.