Student Debt Clinics
For a Better Life, for Equity and Civil Rights, for Freedom and for a Voice at Work and in Our Democracy
The rising cost of higher education has led more than 45 million people in the United States to seek out student loans to finance their pursuit of higher education, borrowing over $1.7 trillion. Before March 2020, 1 in 4 were in distress—either not able to pay the full amount of their monthly payments, or they had gone into default.
The debt relief landscape is far different today, thanks to the work of AFT members. Our work has created more opportunities for borrowers―even borrowers with FFEL or parent PLUS loans―but some of these opportunities are time limited.
That’s where the AFT’s student debt clinics come in. Student debt clinics are 90-minute programs that:
- Situate the experience of borrowers in the midst of a national student debt crisis;
- Empower them to manage their student debt by giving them information on free federal programs that may lower their monthly payments and lead to their loans being forgiven; and
- Engage them in union activism to address the student debt crisis and other important issues in their workplace and community.
You Are Not “A Loan”
The burden of paying off student loans can be overwhelming, with borrowers blaming themselves for the struggles they’re facing and not knowing who they can turn to for help. The student debt clinic curriculum makes clear that the individual struggles of our members are the result of political failures, failures that add to already existing inequalities in our society. Student debt clinics are a first step in breaking out of the isolation that debt imposes, so that we can find collective solutions to the student debt crisis.
Student debt clinics provide our members with important information on two free federal debt relief programs:
- Income-driven repayment plans, which are available to every federal student loan borrower, regardless of where they work. Income-driven repayment plans determine your monthly payment based on your adjusted gross income and family size and may save you money.
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which allows qualifying federal student loan borrowers to have the money they saved using an income-driven repayment plan forgiven after making payments for 10 years while working in public service.
Student debt clinics provide members with information on how these programs work, the steps necessary to take to qualify for them, resources to support them through the process, and best practices to make sure that they are maximizing the benefits available to them.
From Aid To Advocacy
Student debt clinics build on the education and empowerment they provide by also offering members opportunities to engage in finding solutions to the student debt crisis. Student debt clinic participants have:
- Provided important information for our lawsuits against both former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the student loan servicer Navient for mismanagement and deception in their handling of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, leading directly to the changes and expansion of the PSLF program that has provided loan forgiveness to hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers working in public service who were previously ineligible;
- Advocated for the Department of Education to adopt a 3.35-contact-hour multiplier to more accurately count the hours of contingent faculty in higher education to PSLF, implemented on July 1, 2023;
- Pushed for state laws providing important consumer protections for student borrowers;
- Used collective bargaining to expand the number of workers eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and explore other methods for providing debt relief in the workplace; and
- Campaigned for and elected politicians who prioritize affordable higher education and student debt relief.
Student debt clinics demonstrate how our unions are taking the lead on an issue that directly affects the pocketbooks of our members, and the clinics allow members to be a part of that movement.
Getting A Student Debt Clinic At Your Union
Is your union ready to host a student debt clinic?
Make a request to email@example.com, and AFT staff will contact you to set up the clinic and provide a trainer for the session.
The AFT also provides a student debt clinic “Train-the-Trainers” program, a two-day training that:
- Prepares activists to present the student debt clinic curriculum;
- Familiarizes trainers with support materials;
- Provides best practices for organizing successful events; and
- Helps leaders visualize campaigns around student loan debt.
Request a Train-the-Trainers program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also click here to register for an upcoming AFT national student debt clinic webinar.