by Colleen Flaherty
In order to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher, Lauren Zavrel completed a master’s degree in adult education. Now, she teaches at Clackamas Community College in Oregon.
“I have the greatest job in the world,” said Zavrel. “I love my career and I wouldn’t trade it for any other in the world.”
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Unfortunately, she now has $81,000 in student loans to repay. In a couple years when her husband finishes his degree, they will collectively owe more than $110,000.
“It’s affected our lives in many ways, such as thinking about when we can have a family, if we can get a mortgage, things like that,” said Zavrel, who works two additional jobs while teaching. “For anybody who wants to go into something like social service or if you want to be a teacher, I think that having that looming debt cloud in front of you is really tragic.”
That’s why Zavrel traveled to Washington D.C. when she was invited to the White House to witness President Barack Obama signing an executive order to make student loan debt more manageable for the millions of Americans with debt.
“I’m here to advocate for my students and students across the country who are in similar situations, and I also think that it’s just about time that we prioritize education. It’s time we step up and advocate for students.”
The executive order signed Monday afternoon will enable an additional 5 million borrowers to cap monthly student loan repayments at 10 percent of their income and forgive any unpaid debt after 20 years, or 10 years for those in public service jobs.
“I’m only here because this country gave me a chance through education. We are here today because we believe that in America, no hardworking young person should be priced out of a higher education,” said Obama.
Under this plan, a 2009 graduate earning about $39,000 a year as a fourth year teacher, with student loan debt of $26,500, would have initial monthly payments reduced by $126 for a savings of $1,500 per year, according to the White House.
In addition, Obama announced a series of actions around higher education to address access and affordability, “especially for vulnerable borrowers who may be at greater risk of defaulting on their loans,” including renegotiating contracts with companies like Sallie Mae that service student loans and doing more to promote awareness of tax credits and repayment plans for those in debt.
The president also voiced his support for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student loan refinancing bill, which will be up for a vote Wednesday.
“Just like you can refinance your mortgage at a lower interest rate, this bill would let you refinance your student loans. And we’d pay for it by closing loopholes that allow some millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than the middle class,” said Obama.
“I want Americans to pay attention to see where their lawmakers’ priorities lie here: lower tax bills for millionaires, or lower student loan bills for the middle class.”
Charlotte Hayer, a high school educator in her 30th year of teaching, was also at the White House this afternoon. When she was going for her Master’s degree, she had to stop when her student loans became unmanageable.
“I’m still paying nearly $600 a month on my student loans. When I do retire from teaching, I’ll need to get another job to keep living,” said Hayer.
As hard as her debt has been on her, Hayer said she’s most concerned for her students and colleagues back in Virginia.
“First year teachers come to our school with mountains of student loan debt. They don’t get paid that much, so they’re taking second and third jobs to make ends meet,” said Hayer. “And I look at my own students, too, on their way to college, or not, depending on their family income. I don’t think this is right.”
While college affordability may look bleak now, Hayer was honored to be at the White House on behalf of students and those struggling with debt.
“My mother would be so proud. She gave me the strength to be the voice that I needed to be for people who couldn’t speak for themselves. Today is a very real gift for me.”