What it means for these 5 in Berkeley


President Biden announced plans this week to pay off $10,000 in student loan debt. People who earn less than $125,000 per year will qualify.

Calculate how much of your student loan debt can be forgiven using the The Washington Post Tool. Sign up for notifications on how you can claim debt relief on the website of the Department of Education.

Pell Grant recipients, who make up a quarter of undergraduates at UC Berkeley, are eligible for an additional $10,000 in forgiveness.

Federal student loan payments have also been extended through the end of 2022. Borrowers will need to fill out a form that has not yet been posted on StudentAid.gov. Debt held by private lenders does not qualify.

Across the city, Berkeley residents burdened with student loans celebrated, though for many, the relief was a drop in the bucket. Five Berkeley students, workers and residents shared what the plan means to them.

Aaron Hill: ‘College costs have been smashed’

Aaron Hill, 21, poses for a selfie with a therapy llama at Memorial Glade. Credit: Aaron Hill

UC Berkeley senior Aaron Hill woke up Tuesday, the first day of the fall semester, to learn he would likely finish his bachelor’s degree with just $138 in student debt.

For the 21-year-old history student and former editor-in-chief of the Berkeley Political Review, the news didn’t exactly come as a complete surprise — he’d been tracking the news — but it was a relief.

Hill is one of the Pell Grant recipients who will be eligible for $20,000 loan forgiveness, a sum he says will free up money to fulfill his goal of attending law school after two years of teaching.

The combination of the Pell Grant, merit-based scholarships, and her ability to stay home with her parents in Forest Falls for the duration of remote learning have all contributed to the affordability of her education.

But while Hill said the plan is a step in the right direction, he sees debt relief as a band-aid solution and regressive policy.

“The benefits accrue mainly to middle-class people, while some lower-class people who didn’t go to college are left out,” he said. “College costs have come down in the United States…Hopefully, as time goes on, we can see lasting changes so that we don’t rack up debt like this.”

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—Iris Kwok

Eric Loucks: $10,000 is just a fraction of my student debt

Eric Loucks, 33, poses for a photo inside the fabrication shop at Bauer Wurster Hall at UC Berkeley. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/Catchlight

Eric Loucks, 33, a woodworker in the fabrication shop of the architecture department at the UC Berkeley School of Environmental Design, earns $36 an hour when school is in session.

He received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2021 and is about $65,000 in debt.

“I was really looking forward to the $50,000 debt relief [urged by high-profile Democrats like Elizabeth Warren]even though it was probably exaggerated,” Loucks said.

Loucks said he’s not sure if the $10,000 cut will make a tangible difference.

“In theory, it will be sooner that I’m done with them, but I don’t think it’s going to make the payment feel any smaller,” Loucks said. “But I haven’t done any research. To be honest, I’ve been putting it off until I have to face it.”

More than anything, Loucks said, Biden’s announcement is a reminder that he needs to make some calls and figure out how long he’ll pay off his student debt after the loan freeze expires at the end of 2022.

—Iris Kwok

Courtney Bither: They didn’t tell us about community college

Courtney Bither, 27, said about two-thirds of her student debt will be erased under President Biden’s loan forgiveness plan. Courtesy: Courtney Bither

Courtney Bither, Ph.D. third year. A history candidate at UC Berkeley who grew up in rural Oregon, she said she came to UC Berkeley “in spite of finances.”

After finishing a master’s degree in history at Harvard University, the 27-year-old had already racked up a significant sum of credit card and student loan debt, and she didn’t know if she was ready to take another chance and live in an area. where the cost of living is skyrocketing.

To make ends meet, she works 40 hours a week, 20 as a graduate student instructor at UC Berkeley and 20 as a remote staff assistant, in addition to being a full-time student. “I’m not the only one in my cohort that has to do extra work to make a living here,” she said.

She said the loan forgiveness plan means about two-thirds of her debt will be forgiven — reducing the amount owed from $15,000 to $5,000.

“It makes things a lot easier for me,” Bither said. “It makes it less scary to graduate from the program.” His loans are deferred while he is a student, so he is responsible for paying the interest, about $100 a month. But his Ph.D. The stipend is $30,000 a year before taxes, and even $100 a month is “a lot to pay.”

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Bither said her experience as a first-generation college student and the financial aid application process have made her acutely aware of the disadvantages students face. “It depends on what kind of counselors you have or if your parents went to college,” she Bither said. “It’s an expensive thing to leave to chance.”

Her younger sister, despite attending state school, has more than $70,000 in student debt, and while the $10,000 certainly helps, it’s only a fraction of the total cost.

“We really wish someone had told us about the options with the community college,” Bither said. “When you’re 18, numbers don’t really mean anything. They don’t mean something in the same way that they do when you’re looking to pay for it.”

—Iris Kwok

Yevgeniy Melguy: ‘It’s a great relief not to have this hanging over my head’

Yevgeniy Melguy said his student debt has meant years “saving on every little thing.” Courtesy: Yevgeny Melguy Credit: joe eidel

Yevgeny Melguy, a Ph.D. A linguistics student at UC Berkeley, she graduated from Reed College in 2015 with just over $10,000 in debt, a combination of Pell grants and other federal loans. He quickly paid off a couple thousand dollars of debt, but since he enrolled in graduate school, he had to set aside the rest of his student loans.

Almost immediately after enrolling in Cal, Melguy burned through his savings due to surprise medical bills and sky-high rent. There was no room for student loan payments in his budget.

“I really had to buckle down and be even more frugal than I am,” said Melguy, whose Belarusian immigrant parents taught him to save, not spend, from a young age. “I’m already a cheap son of a bitch.”

“I was economizing on every little thing. And it was still impossible to save money for a couple of years.” It was only when he joined the UC Berkeley co-ops, and his rent and food expenses were cut in half, that he had a little respite.

Now that Melguy had started applying for postdoctoral positions, debt had begun to stalk again. The jobs offered meager wages, including one in Spain that would pay him €25,000 a year.

With Biden’s announcement, Melguy hopes the rest of his debt will go away. “I am very lucky. For me, it is a great relief not to have this hanging over my head, as I am contemplating being in another financially precarious job.”

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— Ally Markovich

Carli Oxenham: Debt changes the way she hangs out with her friends

A packed Sproul Plaza on the first day of the fall semester at UC Berkeley. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

On Wednesday afternoon, UC Berkeley junior and molecular cell biology student Carli Oxenham, 20, sat at a table outside Latimer Hall after attending her fourth class of the day, frowning. in front of your phone screen.

“It’s been a long time,” he said, refreshing his browser. She had received a push notification about the ad, but was unable to find out how much he would qualify for because “the Wi-Fi hasn’t been working all day.” “I can’t even use a hotspot,” she said.

Oxenham said he owes $3,500 in debt from living in campus dorms his freshman year. While he didn’t want to graduate with any student debt, he granted himself an exception and took out a loan to live in the dorms so he could “really focus on adjusting to Berkeley.” He moved back to his Long Beach home during remote learning and now lives off campus to save money.

Currently, her tuition is covered by scholarships, both recurring from high school and from UC Berkeley, as well as a job on campus at Clark Kerr Preschool, where she cleans, prepares food, and occasionally teaches science.

He said he’s been careful to save the money he gets through scholarships to make sure he can pay it back before he graduates. “It kind of changes the way I hang out with my friends,” Oxenham said, adding that he sometimes sees his friends take big trips and attend music festivals like Outside Lands, which cost hundreds of dollars.

“I’m like, ‘I’d much rather go into savings,’” Oxenham said. “Go on guys, have fun.”

—Iris Kwok