Calls for change in federal student loan system come amid insurmountable debt for many Ohio graduates


CLEVELAND – We are in the midst of graduation season. Last fall, nearly 50,000 Ohio high school graduates began their first year of college in our state. In 2020, nearly 33,000 Ohio students graduated ready for the job market. But with degrees come the realities of federal student loans, whether it’s accepting them or starting to repay them. There is massive debt and calls for changes to the federal lending system.

“I went to school to get into medical school to go into the cryonics field,” said Brian Lee, Jr., 31, of Stow. “I applied to hospitals, labs, pharmacies… I can’t find anything there and it’s a struggle.”

Lee’s dream of becoming a doctor is just that, a dream.

“(I have) a huge debt that won’t go away and (I) can’t pay it, I can’t afford it. It tires me, ”he said.

Lee graduated from Kent State University in 2015 with a degree in biology. That was six years ago – six years of deferral of his loans.

“I have over $ 76,000 in debt,” he said.

Ohio woman owes over $ 500,000

If that’s not enough, what about Cheryl Austin, 52, of Cincinnati?

“Like how did I get here?” Austin asked. “People can never catch up. And it’s time to do something.

Between herself, her husband and their two grown children, she said their family owed more than half a million dollars in graduate debt.

“Do you think you’ll be able to pay back all that money? ” we asked.

When asked if she thought they would be able to pay back all that money, Austin replied emphatically, “Oh, no! “

Calls for change – significant change

“This is a systematically vicious and predatory lending system,” said Alan Collinge, founder of, an organization calling for a radical change in student loans. “Before the pandemic, about 80% – eight to zero – percent of all federal student loan borrowers were never going to repay their loans.”

He told us his research showed that in 2017, the amount of money Ohioans owed in federal student loans was almost the same as the state-wide government budget at that time, and a handful of other states were worse off than us.

“It’s money that is leaking the state’s economy and a lot of it goes on the books of the Department of Education in Washington, DC,” Collinge said.

5 On Your Side Investigators studied federal student loan debt after graduation from 15 Ohio schools. The extent of the debt depends on the degree. At the bottom of the loan scale, Ohio University is the lowest on our list at $ 11,500. For schools in the Cleveland area, Akron University is the lowest at $ 12,650. On the high end of loans, Baldwin Wallace tops our list with $ 36,100, followed by the University of Cincinnati with $ 31,200.

President Biden and federal student loans

“The best thing to do, I would say, get the loaner system in the tub and drown it in the tub,” Collinge said. There are a lot of people who agree with him. His petition calling on President Biden to wipe out all federal student loans has over a million signatures from across the country.

President Biden campaigned on the idea of ​​canceling $ 10,000 in federal student loan debt per person, and there was even talk recently this month about the possibility of a $ 50,000 debt forgiveness. .

Silent government agencies

We reached out to the US Department of Education and requested an interview with former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who is now the CEO of Federal Student Aid. We were refused.

We asked the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Advanced Education. Again, no interviews about something that affects so many people.

According to a statement from the Department of Education, Americans owed more than $ 1.5 trillion in student debt as of September 30, 2020. A hiatus on payments took effect during the pandemic and is expected to expire on September 30, 2021. Before the pandemic , 87% of student loans were in some form of repayment, and 13% were considered past due.

Some might ask: Shouldn’t a lot of the blame fall on the people to whom the money was loaned in the first place? They knew their financial choices, right?

“The only option they gave me was student loans,” Austin said. “I didn’t know anything about scholarships or even how to apply for scholarships. “

“It’s not a bad borrower problem,” Collinge said. “It’s a big government loan monstrosity.”

It’s a monstrosity that Lee told us he makes live at home with his parents, works part-time at a grocery store, and faces big federal payments.

“I was promised that if I worked hard, studied hard, and went to school, the world would be my oyster,” Lee said.

5 On your side Investigators want to hear from you about your student loans, the issues you are facing, and what you think should be done about them. Email us: [email protected]

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