Briona Bargerstock has big plans ahead of her.
The 21-year-old student at Penn State Behrend is majoring in psychology and hopes to attend graduate school for social work and ultimately law school.
But like roughly 43 million American college students and graduates, Bargerstock is shouldering federal debt from student loans. And despite receiving scholarships and a Pell Grant, Bargerstock, now a senior, said she will graduate with at least $12,000 of debt, a burden that will surely get worse as her studies continue.
“It’s a very scary thing,” Bargerstock said. “Debt is like something constantly weighing over your head. You know that money is being accumulated. And it causes stress for minor assignments because you just want to be the best student to get the best job — so you can pay for all of this debt.”
Bargerstock, who’s from Armstrong County, pays in-state tuition at Behrend, which, according to the Behrend website, is $15,904. The amount tracks with the average in-state tuition cost of public universities in Pennsylvania, according to a report by the Education Data Initiative.
While Bargerstock said she has help from her parents, financial aid and even a part-time job working at the college’s Reed Union Building information desk, it’s still not enough.
“It doesn’t cover everything unfortunately, and that’s the sad reality for a lot of students,” she said.
President Joe Biden’s new Student Loan Debt Relief Plan aims to be a lifeline.
The program, which was announced in August, provides up to $10,000 in debt relief to borrowers with federal debt and up to an additional $10,000 for those students who are Pell Grant recipients. Eligible borrowers must make less than $125,000 a year or belong to households making less than $250,000 a year.
Borrowers have until Dec. 31, 2023, to apply for the program at studentaid.gov.
The Biden administration also extended a pause on federal loan repayments to January. The pause initially began in March 2020 to offer relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Application available:Application for Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is available: Here’s what to know
For full-time undergraduates, the average debt at graduation for is $25,921, or $6,480 for each year of a four-year degree at a public university, according to the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities.
For students like Bargerstock, who received a Pell Grant, the debt relief program could be a game-changer and effectively erase her entire $12,000 debt.
“I will be able to start graduate school with a clean slate,” she said. “It will enable me to start my professional career with less worry and I will able to invest more money in housing, a new car and help my family which is something that is very important to me. It will elevate a burden and open so many doors for me.”
The program is not without its detractors.
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th Dist., has called the plan unconstitutional, too expensive and an unfair tax burden on those Americans who don’t have a college student in their family.
“You’re asking some people — some moms and dads who’ve never had enough money to send their own children to school — and saying ‘Now, we’re transferring that debt onto you,'” Kelly said in an interview with the Erie Times-News. “Even though they have nobody in school, taxpayers are going to pick up the tab for that.”
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Kelly, of Butler, who is running for re-election in November, insisted the program was politically-motivated — purposely unveiled prior to the November mid-term election — and will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the plan would cost at least $400 billion over the next 30 years, according to a report in USA Today.
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“I just tell hardworking American taxpayers, ‘Watch out, they’re coming for every single penny you have to put something across the board that is a political game,'” Kelly said. “This has nothing to do with good policy. The constitution does not put the president in a position to make that decision. It has to go through the Congress.”
Biden justified the enactment of the debt relief plan via an act passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks which gives the administration authority to forgive student loan debt during national emergencies.
Biden justifies plan with post-9/11 law:Supreme Court denies challenge to Biden’s student loan forgiveness program
On hold:Federal appeals court temporarily blocks Biden student debt relief plan
On Oct. 21, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the Biden administration from moving forward with the debt relief program, according to a report from USA Today. The court action came as six states argued that Biden has no grounds to cancel debt for millions of borrowers.
Another suit, filed recently by the Job Creators Network Foundation, argues the administration violated federal procedures by failing to seek public input on the program, according to the JCNF website.
The program is still accepting applications despite the pause.
From 2010 to 2020, college tuition inflation averaged 4.63% annually. Over that same period, tuition at four-year public institutions increased 31.4%., according to a report from the Education Data Initiative.
The rising cost of college has been linked to more demand to attend college and more demand for federal aid, as well as less state funding. Over the past 30 years, average tuition and fees increased 158% from $4,160 to $10,740 at public four-year universities, after adjusting for inflation, according to a report from the College Board.
For Kelly’s Democratic challenger, Dan Pastore, of Fairview, Biden did the “right thing” by unveiling the debt relief plan, but the skyrocketing cost of higher education is really the underlying problem, according to an email statement to the Times-News.
“The costs to go to college and trade schools have far outpaced inflation, and the financial aid industry has become predatory. We need real reform to make attending a college or technical school more affordable for every American family,” he said.
Bargerstock said she hopes to take advantage of the debt relief program but acknowledged it’s more of a “short-term solution to a long-term issue.”
“We wouldn’t have to implement these kinds of things if college scaled back and made it more reasonable for students to get degrees,” she said. “It’s a small victory for a big problem. A good beginning but by no means an end.”
A.J. Rao can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNRao.
Student loan borrowers could get up to $20,000 relieved – GoErie.com
Briona Bargerstock has big plans ahead of her.