Pay it off

Sharing simple solutions with student loan debtors

There is a way out of student debt, and AFT locals want you, your students, your families and anyone else who’s taken out a student loan—or considered one—to know about it. They are teaming up with Jobs with Justice and the Student Labor Action Project to offer online guidance, practical workshops, clinics and trainings that help people pay off their debt.

“There’s a lot we can do to have a debt-free future,” says JWJ organizer Beth Huang. Public service loan forgiveness, for example, erases student loan debt after 10 years of qualifying, on-time payments for people working in public education, public health, emergency services, legal services, government organizations and some nonprofits. But the program is underutilized and underpublicized: Of the 33 million people eligible, just 222,387 have enrolled.

At, JWJ gives step-by-step instructions to help people access debt forgiveness and learn about loan consolidation and income-based repayment. There are reassuring tips from borrowers, who not only offer advice but also destigmatize debt by sharing their stories.

Workshops, clinics and trainings like “Unpopular Economics,” held this summer by AFT Washington, spread the word further. The daylong course describes individual debt solutions and also considers collective action—such as the demonstration by adjunct faculty who submitted their loan forgiveness papers en masse, blocking traffic in New York City, and the successful campaign by members of the AFT’s Palomar Faculty Federation (Calif.) to ensure college administrators would notify campus workers of public service loan forgiveness.

The sessions have generated a lot of interest, says AFT Washington President Karen Strickland: “It so resonates with people.” Huang describes one workshop participant who cut $600 from her monthly loan payment. “She said it was the biggest raise she ever got,” says Huang.

In many instances, people are so warmed by such successes, they eagerly sign up to be union members (if they are not members already).

AFT On Campus, Fall 2015 Download PDF (2.24 MB)
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Locals can help members access debt relief with the following resources.

  • At, users can access personal advice from others who have found a way to pay off their own student loans. There are basic steps for repayment, how to get out of default and how to apply for loan forgiveness, plus a webinar to make it more accessible.
  • Face-to-face assistance is available at student debt clinics held at union halls, work sites, campuses and community areas to help debtors fill out loan forgiveness applications and walk them through the paperwork on other approaches to easing debt.
  • Daylong trainings include destigmatizing student debt with shared storytelling, instructions on how to reduce payments, and information about how to take collective action and how to bargain loan forgiveness into collective bargaining contracts.
  • The “Unpopular Economics” training involves a daylong workshop that trains the trainers, so that the word on relieving student debt can spread further.

For more information, contact Chris Goff at or 202-393-6321.