University of Southern Maine Debt Forgiveness Program – NECN

A university in Maine forgives an average of about $2,100 in debt for hundreds of its students.

This week, notices were sent to more than 730 students at the University of Southern Maine (USM) explaining that the school had automatically deducted this amount from their accounts.

“We’ve had very positive ratings from students saying, ‘wow, that’s a big help,'” said university president Dr. Glenn Cumming.

During an interview Wednesday, Cummings told NECN/NBC 10 Boston that the roughly $2 million for the school’s effort came from a federal COVID-19-related program called the Higher Education Relief Act.

USM had received funds for projects such as overhauling HVAC systems to make classrooms safer during the pandemic, and after other obligations had been met, there was money left over.

“We had a few million dollars more,” Cummings explained.

After analyzing what was best to do with the funds, USM management determined that it would be best to try to write off some of the debt for students who had dropped out of school during the pandemic or who had the most financial difficulties during it.

“We basically said ‘who has racked up more than x debt in the last 24 months?

A number of students at USM’s Portland campus told NECN/NBC 10 Boston on Wednesday that they thought the program was a good idea.

However, some have questioned whether or not this is the best or fairest solution to the problem of high student debt.

“I’ve worked hard and saved my money and I’m going to graduate here in the spring debt-free,” said Hunter Rushing, a senior at USM.

“When you talk about mortgages, car loans, those won’t be forgiven, and I think the same precedent needs to be set for student loans,” he added.

There was broader agreement that a broader national conversation about the price of education needs to take place in the United States and that the federal government should come up with broader plans to help students in debt.

“I really think that’s the direction we need to go,” Rushing said.

“I think making college as affordable as possible and not putting (the cost of higher education) on the fence is something that’s really going to help us grow,” Cummings said.

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