Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Apr 14 2017

Heitkamp Stands Up for Student Loan Borrowers Working in Public Service

North Dakota Students Historically Have Had among the Highest Rates of Indebtedness in the Country – 83 Percent Graduated with Debt in 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp pressed U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about concerns over the agency’s announcement that may it renege on its commitments to provide student debt relief for borrowers who work for 10 years in public service, including the in the military, or as teachers, social workers, or other forms of public servants in our communities.

Previously, borrowers were notified that they may rely on their work in government or nonprofits to qualify them for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), assuring those working in public service that they are on the right track toward loan forgiveness.  Now, those public servants who have served their communities in good faith are at risk of having that assurance suddenly revoked – as the Department has suggested it is able to rescind determinations of eligibility. Long an advocate of student loan options that provide a path forward for financial stability for borrowers and economic growth for local economies, Heitkamp joined 35 of her U.S. Senate colleagues in calling on DeVos to provide clarity to the borrowers in public service who are now left uncertain about their path to student debt relief, and to at the very least grandfather-in their previous approvals if their employment is no longer determined to be qualified.

“It’s appalling that after promising our servicemembers, teachers, social workers, and so many other public servants that they would receive student loan debt relief in exchange for their dedicated service, the Department of Education is now suggesting it could renege on those commitments,” said Heitkamp. “That’s unacceptable – not just for the individuals who have been diligently serving our communities in good faith for student loan forgiveness, but for the communities that benefit from their valuable services. Governing by uncertainty isn’t just bad policy – it has real consequences for the men and women who protect our neighborhoods, educate our children, and provide counsel when we need it most. That’s what I told Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when I called on her to keep her agency’s promises to our students and public servants, and to provide more guidance and transparency surrounding the program so that families, students and communities alike can plan for the future.”

Click here to read the letter 36 U.S. senators sent to DeVos.

Nearly 70 percent of college seniors in 2015 required loans to afford the skyrocketing price of college, and many are turning to private education loans – which often have higher interest rates than federal loans. Heitkamp has consistently fought for better options to make college more affordable, introducing her Private Education Loan Modification Act in September 2015 to better support students by enabling them to refinance private student loans, as borrowers of such loans can be ineligible for options like deferment, income-based repayment, or public service loan forgiveness. 

North Dakota students have historically had some of the highest rates of indebtedness in the country: 83 percent of the class of 2011 graduated with some form of debt – more than any other state that year. On average, North Dakota students graduate with almost $17,000 in debt, which can force some students to utilize private education loans as additional assistance. Student loan debt across the U.S. has topped $1.4 trillion, surpassing credit card and auto loan debt.

Conversations with North Dakota students and families have reinforced Heitkamp’s commitment to tackling rising student debt, and to building better solutions for students and families to gain financial stability after graduation. Heitkamp’s call today continues her outspoken advocacy for debt relief options for students in the U.S. Senate.

In March 2015, Heitkamp supported an amendment to the Senate budget resolution that would make college more affordable for middle-class families by allowing borrowers with outstanding Federal and private student loans to refinance at the interest rates approved for new borrowers. And Heitkamp has repeatedly made the case for helping North Dakotans with existing student loan debt have the opportunity to refinance at affordable interest rates.


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