Former foster kid praises Biden’s student debt relief plan


When former young foster carer Jennifer Noonan heard the announcement, she felt a weight lift off her shoulders. Having recently graduated with an associate degree from Mt. Hood Community College in Portland, Oregon, the decision means that by the end of the year, she will only owe $6,000 in student debt. More importantly, it means that her children will be equipped with better resources to deal with intergenerational trauma and have a chance to succeed.

“Once I pay it off, I might be able to buy a house sooner for my kids,” Noonan said. “And that means my children will have [the] a future I worked hard for – the only reason I enrolled in college in the first place was to afford a better future.

There has been an ongoing debate about student debt relief from both political parties. Some critics say the decision is a bailout for white-collar workers and say the plan could encourage further tuition inflation.

Despite what critics say, Sixto Cancel, CEO of Think of Us, a research and design lab focused on systems transformation and child wellbeing, believes the news massively benefits an underrepresented demographic. in particular: young adoptees.

As a former foster child himself, Cancel sees the plan as a way to help the foster community get back on its feet. While former foster youth may be able to secure employment, having to repay loans can quickly set them back.

“Where we could invest money to increase our income, we don’t, because that money is misappropriated,” Cancel said. “And so, from an economic point of view, for our people – those who are considered to be in deep poverty – this is actually news that allows us to be able to participate and engage in the economy.

Barriers to education

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, more than 23,000 children come out of the US foster care system each year. Although 70% of young people in foster care say they would like to go to university one day, less than 3% of them graduate at any point in their lives. Additionally, the 2011 Midwest Study from the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall found that 73.8% of youth currently enrolled in homestay paid for their college education through scholarships and grants, while 67.6% took out loans. Of these respondents, 41.9% said their loans would be repaid in the next few years, while 50.5% said there would be a long way to go before the loans were repaid.

During the pandemic, community college and university dropout rates for former foster youth have increased dramatically as other responsibilities have arisen, such as the need to work or care for the family. family. Simultaneously, tuition became the most frequently self-reported need in a survey of 24,695 foster youth.

Growing up in a foster home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Cancel always saw education as the gateway through which he could escape the Five Projects, deep poverty, and numerous gangs that proliferated in his neighborhood. . Before going to college, he started an SAT prep tutoring group to help young people like him increase their standardized test scores.

“At the end of the day, people want to be happy, people want to be valued, and people want to wake up and do meaningful work. And to do meaningful work, you have to learn,” he said.

Despite his love of the arts and his voracious appetite for consuming academic papers, Noonan struggled to manage school as a young foster. After having her first child at 18, she graduated from high school a year late and quickly left the system during the 2008 recession, when she could only get part-time jobs and poorly paid without childcare.

Nevertheless, she always maintained a strong desire to return to school. In 2012, Noonan began her bid for a Chafee scholarship, an annual $5,000 stipend intended to help young people enroll in technical training or college, but she repeatedly missed the scholarships. age limits, even when they have been raised. After three tries, she gave in and decided to enroll at age 27.

“I decided that instead of focusing on the obstacles, I wasn’t going to let that be what’s holding me back,” Noonan said.

Noonan made it work by taking every grant and loan available to him, including the Oregon Opportunity Grant, Oregon Student Childcare Grant, Pell Grant, and unsubsidized and subsidized loans.

“I understood that I had to repay this, I understood the seriousness of it,” she said. “And I had negative feelings knowing that I probably wouldn’t be able to repay them, [yet] I still need to rely on it so that I can even go to university, so that I can provide a better future for my children.

A second chance

Following Biden’s recent announcement, Noonan will only have $6,000 in student debt to pay off and is currently working to earn his bachelor’s degree from Portland State University. She hopes this loan forgiveness will encourage more former young adoptees to attend college.

Likewise, Cancel believes Biden’s plan can provide a second chance for people with backgrounds like his brother, who was unable to complete college due to multiple jobs and to support himself and those from his family.

“This wipeout is like, ‘Oh, maybe I can give it another shot,'” he said. “People, psychologically, are like, ‘Maybe it’s time to re-engage, because [we’re] given a second chance.

While the money won’t completely eradicate student debt, for those who need it most, it could mean breaking cycles of poverty, homelessness and illiteracy.

“I think we always have to celebrate when we take brave action,” Cancel said. “It is the incremental progress, as well as the pressure from outside, that brings us to our main objective. I feel like we are on the right track.

Lily Levine (her) is a journalist based in Los Angeles and New York. While at the University of Chicago, she covered the intersection of health, education, environmental justice, and racial equity for the South Side Weekly. Follow her on Twitter @lilyylev.

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