The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Uncertainty with disabled students and their loans

Many students with disabilities are discovering a hard truth: that they’ll be stuck paying off student loans after they can no longer afford to go to college.

Because of the Federal Department of Education’s refusal to accept any agency’s determinations of disability other than the department’s, many disabled college students are forced to pay off student loans for tuition when they are unable attend school for a variety of reasons. And rather than accept Social Security’s determinations for disability, the Education Department chooses to use its own set of vague definitions to determine whether candidates with disabilities are worthy of having their loans forgiven.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Aug. 29 article, “Education Department Backs Away From Fix to Help Disabled Student Borrowers,” detailed the issues many students with disabilities face with their student loans.

Social Security’s criteria for determining an individual’s disability claim are fairly straightforward. If people are unable to do work they were previously capable of, unable to adjust to other work due to a medical condition, and the disability is expected to last longer than a year, then people are eligible to receive disability benefits.

However, when dealing with the Department of Education, people need to be prepared for more vague requirements, as it defines a disabled individual as “any person who: has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”

Obviously, anyone who qualifies for Social Security disability benefits would meet the Department of Education’s standards, but because the department refuses to accept any other agency’s disability findings, the Department of Education’s processes are often drawn out and redundant.     

Due to the Department of Education’s redundant findings processes, students with disabilities are often subjected to collection calls far before any decision is made to forgive the loans they are unable to pay off, whether in their favor or otherwise. The Education Department, seeing the obvious flaws in its system, has been promising reforms, some of which involve accepting Social Security’s disability findings, although no notable changes have been made yet.

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City College students with disabilities aren’t typically affected by these Department of Education guidelines, according to Disabilities Resource Center Coordinator Dr. Gwyneth Tracy.

“This is a population that we wouldn’t be seeing,” Tracy said. “We don’t see these people because they are no longer able to attend college.”

However, the consequences facing university and transfer students are much more dire. With tuition costs rising every year, it’s becoming more and more difficult for students with disabilities to pay off mounting student loans, loans that most working graduates have a hard time paying off.

According to ProPublica, university student Donita McDonald was left to pay off $24,000 in student loans after being diagnosed with a serious mental condition. While Social Security easily concluded that she was incapable of working and going to school, the Department of Education subjected McDonald to yet another intensive application process. After spending almost two years under consideration, McDonald’s loans were finally forgiven in full the day after ProPublica’s article was published.

The fact is the Department of Education appears to be going out of its way to avoid helping those it theoretically protects. In America’s time of need, government institutions should focus on doing right by the people, regardless of their own financial challenges. Compared to the average college student’s, the federal government’s deficit is almost unfathomable. Arguing over whether or not to forgive a student’s loans is comparable to a grown man taking a fifth grader’s lunch money.

Unless the Education Department gets its act together soon, students across the United States will be left to pay thousands of dollars for an education they didn’t complete.

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