Student loan forgiveness' impact on four Argus Leader reporters – Argus Leader

When President Joe Biden, and his administration announced Aug. 24 a plan to forgive federal student loans up to $20,000 and pause payments a final time through Dec. 31, 2022, the personal sighs of relief in the newsroom at the Argus Leader were almost visceral. 
Pell Grant recipients would see up to $20,000 in debt cancellation and non-Pell Grant recipients would see up to $10,000 in debt cancellation. That plan immediately changed the lives of many in our newsroom, of whom several are fresh out of college. 
Though this doesn’t exhibit the full scope of everyone in our newsroom who is affected by the plan, four of the Argus Leader reporters were willing to share what that financial relief now means in their ability to move forward in life.
Here’s a closer look at some of the stories behind the people who bring you state and local news daily in South Dakota:
More: How student loan forgiveness would impact South Dakota’s college students, graduates
As I started scheduling college visits in 2013, I quickly realized universities in my hometown of Wisconsin didn’t have the program I was looking for. There were multiple opportunities to earn journalism degrees, but none had a specific emphasis on photojournalism, my chosen career path.
Looking at the top photojournalism programs across the country, I decided I’d have to go out of state to get the education, opportunities and career connections I was looking for. I decided on the University of Missouri. 
I was very fortunate to have financial help from my parents, who paid for a portion of my tuition every year. However, the sum left up to me was more than I could save up for as I approached my junior and senior years. I took out $10,000 in federal student loans to keep me stable until graduation. I determined that the debt was well worth the experiences I was able to have in such a strong program.
I started repaying those loans in 2018, after graduating from college, getting used to losing about $120 every month for the next decade. With the new debt forgiveness plan, that weight of 10 years of payments is completely lifted. I didn’t have to take on nearly as much debt as so many students do to make ends meet, but the idea of eliminating one form of debt from my life is still remarkable. 
Since graduating, I’ve lived in three different states for jobs or internships. Moving costs money. I took out a loan to buy a car, which had a transmission fail – twice. I lost money on that, and now have a new loan for a different, much less cursed, vehicle.
More: South Dakota college graduates weighed down by heavy student debt
I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that left me with medical debt from a hospital stay. My medication costs hundreds of dollars per month until I reach my insurance deductible each year. And to see family, my husband and I have to spend almost $200 just on gas to drive to Wisconsin and back, or save up even more to fly to his home on the east coast. 
None of those things I listed make my circumstances special. So many people with student debt have to deal with comparable, or far more significant, life expenses on top of their loan payments. Cars break down. Basements flood. Unexpected medical issues arise. Childcare prices increase. The list goes on.
I was ready to tackle my debt, and I accepted the financial reality of student loans. But that doesn’t change the fact that with that weight gone, it will make the rest of life’s expenses that much easier to manage. Whether I save or spend that extra $120 every month, I know it will make my life better.
– Erin Woodiel, Argus Leader photojournalist
As the youngest person in the newsroom, I’m also the most-recent college graduate. I finished my degree at South Dakota State University in December 2021, a semester earlier than I originally planned. My plan was to have a double major in journalism and French, but that didn’t happen.
I was very fortunate to have amazing parents, who supported my college career. For three and a half years, they paid for my gas, most of my groceries, my car and any sort of medical expenses that came up. And while I’m forever grateful for their help, they couldn’t afford to pay for my actual schooling. 
I had also always dreamed of studying abroad, so that’s what all my savings was going toward. Therefore, any part of my tuition and housing that wasn’t paid for with a scholarship had to come from loans. 
I took out both federal and private, and before the forgiveness, I was about $48,000 in debt. About $22,000 was from federal loans. 
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However, when the pandemic hit in 2020, I lost my two jobs. No one was hiring, even though I was applying. Eventually, I found an opportunity that I thought was great, only it was too good to be true. 
Long story short, I ended up scammed out of a couple thousand while trying to find work. It was after that I had to re-evaluate my financial life. I decided to drop my French major and forgo the study abroad, and instead just graduate early to save money. 
Again, I loved my college experience, but there were many ups and downs and things I never got to experience, because of costs. I’m still a lot more fortunate than most, and my education led me to this job I love, so no real complaints from me. 
But yes, it is a blessing to have $10,000 less in debt. A huge part of the burden has been lifted off my shoulders. Did it solve all my issues? No. Does this one-time loan forgiveness solve the whole cost-of-education problem for the country? Absolutely not. But anything helps.
Not every policy has to be the end-all, which we should remember. The little things can help, and loan forgiveness is helping real people. 
– Symmone Gauer, Argus Leader business reporter
I am a college drop-out, and I accumulated about $15,000 in debt while attending Black Hills State University. Now that my loans have been paid-off, I feel like that ghost will finally stop haunting me.
For context, I started my college stint in 2015. I attended full-time at BHSU’s Rapid City campus. It primarily served military veterans and working moms who didn’t want to drive to the main campus, which meant I didn’t get the typical college experience.
I was a full-time student there, but I was also a part-time videographer for a local TV station. I started working there in high school, and in 2016, I was offered a promotion to full-time, which I gladly took.
A year later, my news director asked if I’d like to be a reporter. I had been teaching myself broadcast writing for a few months and had expressed interest in the career. I said yes, and he gave me the job on the spot.
I was able to balance full-time school and full-time work for the most part. But I went into college with a lot of questions about the finances. The concept of paying tens of thousands of dollars for tuition on my barely-above-minimum wage was something I couldn’t comprehend, and loans were an entirely foreign concept to me.
My school’s finance office was not much help in that regard. I think I held a deep-seated fear about loan payments, and I needed specific advice, which is something they couldn’t provide.
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By late 2018, I was making an hour-long drive to the main campus every other day. At this point, I was growing bored with my classes. I had already filed at least a few hundred news reports within my first year as a reporter, but I had to take classes on newswriting and video production.
If you ask me, working an eight-hour news shift, then commuting to school just to have a professor attempt to explain the very basics of your job over the course of 15 weeks was a frustratingly mind-numbing endeavor.
One of my professors would even read their lessons straight from a PowerPoint they made years ago. If you asked any questions, they would flip through the course book for an answer. It seemed like they didn’t know. In fact, sometimes they didn’t.
At this point, I began to realize this sort of instruction wasn’t worth the tuition I was paying nor the time and gas money I had to allocate to the commute. It certainly wasn’t the on-campus experience I had anticipated. I still felt compelled to pursue a degree – I never quit things without a good reason, and I greatly dreaded the shame of dropping out of college.
But it was my college advisor’s terrible advice that broke the camel’s back.
In February 2019, I broke the story of Serenity Dennard, a 9-year-old girl who went missing after running away from a children’s home in Rockerville, South Dakota. What followed was one of the largest search operations in state history – Serenity remains missing to this day.
I followed this story for two weeks at the expense of my classes. I still attended my courses as best as I could, but I put off the assignments.
I tried to relate my frustration with my struggling school-work-life balance to my advisor at the time. I wrote in an e-mail I felt it was difficult to dedicate time to school while also already doing the work I’m studying for.
Their response was that I was “not special” and there was nothing they could offer me. I was already at the end of my rope, and to receive this kind of response left me with a strong feeling of disgust. After that, I dropped out.
Fortunately, I am very good at saving money. Loans aside, I proactively put money toward my tuition. And I’m very thankful for my parents, who let me stay at home while I was attending college, which meant I never had to pay for food and rent.
I want to be clear: College gives you the foundation you need to succeed in your life. I was simply in a unique position, where my career had advanced much faster than my studies.
Even if this loan forgiveness wouldn’t extend to me, I am happy enough knowing that other young adults won’t have to shoulder this burden while trying to build their lives, whether that means buying a home or starting family. And for the millions of Americans who fell through the cracks like me, this is one big weight off their chest.
When my two younger siblings graduate college – Vanessa, the middle child, is slated to graduate within a semester or two – I will have the pleasure of joining my parents in celebrating our family’s first-generation college students.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll go back some day, with some financial literacy under my belt.
– Dominik Dausch, Farm Forum editor and Argus Leader agriculture reporter
I graduated from the University of South Dakota a semester early in December 2019, after paying my way through college (thanks to scholarships, good grades, in-state tuition, savings and loans).
Almost two months later, I started my journalism career at the Rapid City Journal. I had no idea that most of my job would be eaten up by COVID-19 coverage.
I was so glad I’d worked hard enough to graduate one semester early. That extra semester counted, and I’m lucky I was able to escape the time that COVID-19 and college intertwined for so many of my Class of 2020 peers.
More: Affordability drives growing number of students to Nebraska
After you graduate from college, you get a six-month grace period in which your federal loan provider gives you some time to get on your feet before you have to start paying on your loans.
During my grace period, there were multiple times in March 2020 where we’d heard news that student loans were changing: first, an elimination of interest; then, an option to suspend payments for two months; then, a suspension of payments through Sept. 30, 2020.
Then, in August 2020, then-President Donald Trump extended relief through Dec. 31, 2020. Then by Dec. 4, 2020, the USDOE extended student loan relief measures through Jan. 31, 2021. When Biden took office, his administration extended relief measures four more times until Wednesday’s big announcement.
Whenever it got closer to the time I’d have to start making loan payments, I would mentally prepare myself and budget to make ends meet.
But then, another new announcement would come that I wouldn’t have to pay for a while. Rinse and repeat.
🎶things are looking up🎵
Now, with this latest news, I’m so relieved to have my nearly $16,000 in federal loans almost cut in half. Without this forgiveness, I’m not sure how much my payments would be, let alone how much the payments would be on a reporter’s salary.
I’ve been saving up enough money through all my various jobs — a paper route in middle school, five solid years at Hy-Vee, slinging coffee and crepes on a food truck, work-study in college, a little money here and there from my time at USD’s student newspaper, the Volante – that I could pay off the remaining nearly $6,000 off right now, if I wanted.
While that’s an option, part of me remains curious if more loans will be forgiven in the future, and if I’ll have to “rinse and repeat” again. Ideally, interest would be cut, too, since that’s what makes the loans grow even more after you graduate.
All in all, no matter one’s political leanings, we can all see how it’s nice to not have an extra cost on my financial plate. It makes for one less thing to worry about.
— Morgan Matzen, Argus Leader education reporter


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