UT forgave $5 million in federal student debt in 2021, HEERF fund distribution to continue this semester at around $28 million

Tori Duff, News Reporter

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Jan. 25, 2022 flipbook.

The University forgave about $2.3 million in student debt in December 2021 through funding from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. University administration expects an additional round of debt relief to be distributed sometime this semester, according to a University spokesperson. 

In total, the University has forgiven nearly $5 million in student loans since the American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021. The HEERF funding comes as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed in March 2020 to reduce the effects of COVID-19 on Americans and the economy.

The University had forgiven $2.6 million in student debt using federal funding in October in the second round of debt relief. The funding released mid-December marks the third installment of funds released from HEERF.

University spokesperson Kathleen Harrison said the University will distribute approximately $28 million in emergency student aid in the spring.

 “The details for this next round are still being planned,” Harrison said. 

Over 5,000 students received HEERF funds in December, and the average amount discharged was $436, Harrison said.

Biology junior Ryan Coffey said he received $10 in HEERF funds. 

“My experience had me left with mixed feelings,” Coffey said. “On one hand, I was ecstatic that I — someone who has never received financial aid — was given something to help with rising college costs in the age of COVID. Though, the feeling quickly turned bittersweet in that I received just $10.”

Coffey said the $10 went toward a debt from the University Health Center. He said after researching, he realized he qualified for aid with this minor charge instead of tuition relief.

Harrison said payments were made to relieve bills with past due balances including tuition, financial aid adjustments, housing, University services and institutional loans. However, federal, Perkins or private loans are not relieved by funds from HEERF, said Brian Dixon, former associate vice provost of student aid and affordability, and Diane Todd Sprague, executive director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, in an email.

“The discharged debt is either for an outstanding student account balance at UT or an outstanding UT institutional loan on your student account, and includes any debt created in fall 2021,” Dixon and Sprague said in an email.

Harrison said students had to be enrolled since March 13, 2020 to be eligible to have their debt discharged, and there are no other conditions attached to the debt relief. Students are prioritized to receive funds based on their level of need, and receive varying amounts, according to the website.

President Joe Biden extended the pause on federal student loan repayments on Dec. 22, 2021. When the December HEERF grants were dispersed, repayments were set to resume in February. Now, repayments will resume at the beginning of May.

Coffey said while he appreciates the federal grants, he hopes the University will take further action to help relieve student debt during the pandemic.

“I think the University has plenty of money to either distribute aid (and) capabilities to be able to lower tuition to offset financial harm to its students in the midst of an economic decline currently occurring,” Coffey said.