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Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta Announces Pilot Program to Lift Student Debt

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta announces the launch of a Student Loan Debt Pilot program, a “reverse scholarship” that will pay off up to $30,000 in student debt for borrowers in the Foundation’s three neighborhoods of focus in metro Atlanta: South Cobb (Fair Oaks); South Fulton (College Park and East Point); and Thomasville.

The initiative, launched less than two months before federal student loan payments – which were paused under a federal moratorium during COVID – are set to resume, aims to mitigate the impact of student loan debt in marginalized communities, who borrow at higher rates than white communities. This debt contributes to the racial wealth gap and has long-term implications for financial, physical and mental health.

“People are going to college for really specific reasons, and generally, it’s for a better life and to better their family and their future. They’re signing up for student debt because that’s the only way they can pay for school,” says Lauren Thomas Priest, program officer for the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. “We need to make sure we’re not signing future students up for huge debt loads but we also need to address those of us who carry huge student debt loads now, because we’re starting to see families with two or even three generations that hold student debt, and what that sets them up for is the opposite of generational wealth.”

While individuals who earn postsecondary degrees typically earn more than non-degreed individuals, the pursuit of those degrees often comes with an outsized debt load, particularly for Black, Indigenous and other students of color, first-generation college students, and those whose families earn low incomes.

Americans collectively owe an estimated $1.75 trillion in student loans. Georgians owe an average of $40,268.87 in student loans—higher than the national average. Statewide, Georgians owe $66 billion in student loans. College Park, one of the Foundation’s three neighborhoods in focus in metro Atlanta, ranks 16th in the nation for student debt burden, with graduates there owing nearly $29,000 in student debt, compared to the median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders—$41,830.

The Foundation’s Student Loan Debt Pilot program comes just two months after the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s plan to forgive some or all student loan debt for millions of Americans. The President’s SAVE plan will provide relief to a segment of the population but many people, including parents who took out Parent PLUS loans for their students, will be left behind.

The Student Loan Debt Pilot program is rooted in the Foundation’s strategic priorities of Place Based Philanthropy and Income and Wealth Systems Change through TogetherATL, the organization’s five-year strategic initiative to advance equity and shared prosperity throughout the region.

Targeted to serve residents in our three neighborhoods of focus who hold student loan debt, this program will eliminate a number of selected residents’ student debt burden, allowing them to reduce their debt and increase their ability to build wealth. Payments will go directly to the student or parent loan providers, not the borrowers, and will be limited to $30,000 per borrower this year.

In addition to debt relief, with its short- and long-term benefits, the Student Loan Pilot aims to prove the positive impact of student debt repayment or elimination, and to build momentum towards a universal, systemic solution to the student debt crisis.

The application opens August 15th and closes September 15th. Students or parents who want to apply should first complete a profile and then access the application here.

Donors who are interested in supporting the initiative should contact the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta Philanthropy team.

Article courtesy of Metro Atlanta CEO, published August 16, 2023.