Everett Community College Clears 3,4,000 Student Debt with Pandemic Relief Fund
Hundreds of indebted students who attended Everett Community College during the pandemic received a welcome surprise. Their student debt was written off. It is paid for with federal money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
Daria Willis is President of Everett Community College. She told KUOW’s Kim Malcolm why her college went beyond grantmaking and decided to write off the debt of more than 3,400 students.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Daria willis: I went to college not too long ago, and I still have student debt that I’m paying off. There were no programs like this when I was in school. If there was one little thing we could do to help them succeed and pay off the college balance they owe during the pandemic, that was obvious to me.
Kim Malcolm: Looks like you’ve had quite a few students with outstanding balances. How did that play into your decision?
We had balances of $ 200 to over $ 5,000. Usually, when the college looked at the balances owed from year to year, we never had more than 3,000 students. We had maybe 500 to 700 students year over year. What this has shown us is that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted thousands of students and their ability to do well in school.
When they have a debt on their account, they cannot enroll in additional courses, and some of those students go into the collections. If we have the opportunity to write off the debt of these students, why not do it?
What would you say to people who claim you could have spent this money otherwise, hired more teachers, or developed the college in some way?
I tell them to read the grant requirements. The guidelines are really specific on how we should use these funds. Some hires are allowed with the use of funds, but must be Covid-related expenses. For people who doubt how we’ve used this, I don’t care what your political background is, it’s about getting more Americans to have an education, and whatever else I can do in my life. chair’s seat to make this happen, I will do it.
It was one-time federal funds. That kind of funding might not come back to you. Are you in favor of eliminating student debt at the college level?
Yes, 100%, and especially in community colleges, which have to do so much more with less. Another way we were able to use our funds was to provide free student accommodation to over 100 students in our population. We investigated and found that thousands of students were affected by homelessness and housing insecurity during the pandemic.
We’ve spent almost $ 1.5 million of our ARP funds to make sure students have a safe roof over their heads over the next academic year. These kinds of initiatives – eliminating student debt, providing housing and putting food in the stomachs of our students – are things that we must continue to do as we move forward.
People talk about the good old days, but times are changing. Education is getting so much more expensive. The cost of living is increasing. Why not offer free college? Why not offer free accommodation? Why not provide access to free health care and food? It doesn’t make people lazy. It just gives people opportunities to continue to provide for their families.
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