AP NEWS

Tuition debt forgiveness plan good investment

March 22, 2019

The Alamo Colleges plan to forgive up to $1.8 million in debt for some 9,000 former students in hopes they will re-enroll and complete their course work is a sound financial investment.

The community college district board’s approval of the Fresh Start Program means former students who have a debt to the Alamo Colleges for $500 or less dating prior to the fall of 2017 can re-enroll without having to pay the outstanding bills.

More important, the outstanding balance will be forgiven completely if the student completes six additional credit hours with grade of a C or above. The district gets to boost its completion rates, and students can earn the degrees and certificates they need to become more marketable.

The debt students left behind has already been written off the community college district’s books and won’t affect the district budget. Though it was off the books, the district continued collection attempts and wouldn’t release a transcript if the student had an outstanding bill. Debt forgiveness will now allow students access to their transcripts if they want to transfer.

Giving former students this second chance allows many an opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty. A high school education is no longer enough in today’s job market. Those fortunate enough to land a job above minimum wage quickly find their opportunity for advancement is limited.

Getting students on campus and enrolled in classes is no small feat, but the real challenge is student retention. In recent years the Alamo Colleges system has made great strides in increasing counseling and outreach to students as they adjust to the rigors of higher education. Still, there are about 277,000 Bexar County residents who attended classes, acquired some college credits but did not earn a degree or credentials.

Getting the 9,000 students with outstanding debt to consider going back into the classroom is a step in the right direction. A debt of $500 is not huge, but for someone of limited means it might as well be tens of thousands of dollars.

The path back to campus can get even more complicated when students must pay off an outstanding debt in addition to coming up with tuition. Reducing financial barriers to re-enrollment has high dividend potential.