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UD and DSU presidents cheer Biden's student debt relief program

Student debt relief
LA Johnson
/
NPR

Students and alumni are not the only ones relieved to hear that thousands of dollars of their loan debt is about to be forgiven.

Delaware State University's president Tony Allen says the federal loan relief is a big statement to colleges to start discussing affordability.

DSU and the University of Delaware have taken steps to make college affordable, like free tuition at DSU for any Delaware high-school graduate with a 2.75 GPA or higher.

Allen not only expects to see more new students, but returning students. Four years ago DSU started a “near-completers” program for recent, and long-term drop outs.

“So we said to them, if you have 90 credits or more and you want to finish your degree we can put you on track to do that in a year," Allen said. "And some of the ways we did that was forgive the debt that they owed us. We’ve seen a very significant take rate from that population over the last four years, but I am expecting even more because of the president’s debt relief initiative.”

UD’s president Dennis Assanis notes their efforts to increase access, such as receiving state funding to ensure Delaware students from families making $75,000 or less, can attend tuition-free. That’s helped make this year’s freshman class the largest ever.

“At the same time, there’s another message because we have people who graduated just a few years back and they’re saddled with some of the debt that is a difficult thing for their careers as they start out, families, careers and so on. So this relief is a first step, we’d like it to be bigger but it’s a great step.”

Assanis adds building costs and faculty salaries are part of inflated tuition rates, but huge cuts in public funding paired with a boom in demand also created a competitive market for higher education nationwide.

“There’s a lot of stuff," he said. "There’s athletics, music, and theater and dance, I mean every one of those things obviously does increase the cost, but that’s what makes the university great.”

This year, construction of the McKinley Lab continues, along with more STAR campus expansion. And, they’ve yet to finalize a plan to demolish the Christiana Towers.

Yearly tuition increases have resumed, but UD is just $40,000 away from its goal to raise $1 billion for the Delaware First Scholarship campaign by the end of the year. That will fund hundreds of scholarships, and in addition to the federal debt relief, will continue to spur larger incoming classes.

Students seeking federal loan relief must apply by Dec. 31, at studentaid.gov/debtrelief.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.