By: Sara Raja
CHAPEL HILL– Elizabeth Ranatza was having dinner with her mother at Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila Bar when she received a notification on her phone. President Joe Biden announced a new student loan forgiveness plan that would eliminate $10,000 of debt for most borrowers.
She was relieved, but her mother thinks loan forgiveness is unfair.
Ranatza, a master’s student at UNC-Chapel Hill, will graduate with about $65,000 in student loan debt. The new legislation means she will have a sizable chunk of her debt forgiven and a cap on how much she has to repay each month.
Students and graduates across the country felt a similar relief when Biden announced the plan on Aug. 24. Up to 43 million borrowers could get relief, with about 20 million borrowers being eligible to have their full remaining balance canceled, according to a fact sheet from the Biden administration.
46% of graduate and professional students at UNC-CH receiving student aid utilized loans, according to data from the fall 2020 Census Enrollment.
Ranatza has taken out loans every semester of college so far. When she was a first-year student, it seemed like the normal thing to do. She only realized the depth of her debt when she started graduate school and saw how much money she would owe.
“I was like, these are real numbers,” she said. “I have $150 in my bank account. This is not good.”
Ranatza also had to work many jobs to make it through college. She decided to be a resident advisor to avoid the high housing costs in Chapel Hill, but found it time consuming and emotionally taxing. She quit and started working at Wegmans, where she had crazier experiences.
“I had a guy put his arms in the lobster tank, I had people fight, I had people steal, I had people get jumped,” she said. “I had someone give birth while I was working. Their water broke on aisle 14.”
Now, she works at a gymnastics studio and does Instacart on the side to make ends meet.
Ranatza said her parents think it’s unfair for her to receive student loan forgiveness. They argue that because they helped her with living costs when she was a first-year, they believe they’re entitled to some kind of compensation as well.
Biden’s plan has its fair share of critics. Some people feel loan forgiveness is unfair to those who chose not to go to college or not take out loans. Others who have already paid their student debt feel it’s unfair they missed out on any forgiveness.
But Ranatza doesn’t agree. She said people who have already paid back loans should be happy that the student debt situation is getting better.
To counter her parents, Ranatza pointed out that she feels it’s unfair for her to be paying into social security, when she thinks it’s unlikely she’ll ever see that money again.
When she found out about the plan, she immediately texted the news to a childhood friend, Nikki Thrower.
Thrower, who graduated with a degree in printmaking from UNC Charlotte in 2021, it was a huge relief. She took out about $11,500 in loans, which means most of her debt will be forgiven.
Like Ranatza, Thrower had to work to get herself through college. She has been a server at Mama Ricotta’s in Charlotte, NC for over three years. Managing school and work was challenging and she wishes she’d had the time to get involved in more extracurricular activities.
“My first semester when I got the bill to pay for tuition, I got so scared that I wasn’t able to afford it,” she said. “I almost dropped out and actually called Elizabeth. She convinced me not to.”
Thrower is pursuing a career in art and said the debt forgiveness has changed her outlook on the future. Instead of making monthly student loan payments, she might be able to move to Charlotte to be closer to art events or even rent an art studio.
Jacob Hester is a senior at UNC-CH studying drama and music. He is a Pell Grant recipient, which means he could have up to $20,000 in debt canceled. He has around $11,000 in loans, which will all be forgiven.
Hester knew attending college would only be a possibility for him if he received enough financial aid in grants or scholarships. He worked hard in high school to be the first person in his family to go to a four-year university.
Though he says UNC-CH wasn’t his first choice, he chose it because of the financial aid he was offered. Although he has most of his tuition and fees covered, he also had to work throughout college.
He dreams of moving to New York City after graduation to pursue music and acting, and loan forgiveness has made those dreams feel possible.
“It gives me more confidence in the idea of being able to move and really take my time with exploring myself and exploring the world and being a new adult in a new place,” he said.
Hester and Ranatza both said they hope this plan is only a starting point and that debt forgiveness will increase in the coming years.
Though loan forgiveness will ease the burden of Ranatza’s debt somewhat, her plans for the future are affected by what she will owe. She’s been with her partner for over a year, and they plan to move to Charlotte next year. They have talked about engagement, but paying for a wedding is something they’ll have to put off for a while, she said.
“I have friends who have had extravagant large weddings in the last few years, but I don’t see that being something I’m going to be able to do because I don’t need to add on to any of this,” she said.
Ranatza doesn’t regret her choice to take out loans and have multiple jobs to be able to attend UNC-CH, but she hopes this plan and future legislation will make things easier for the next generation of students.
Edited by: Eric Weir and Monique Williams