Timothy R. Bussey, the assistant director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Kenyon College, made sure to instill in his audience at the Rainbow Center Thursday the importance of understanding the fine print of financial aid legislation, even though he admitted it might not be the most fun topic.
During his lecture, Bussey focused on defining and critiquing the PROSPER Act, a recent bill that has caused some concern over its potential impact on student loans and financial aid. Though the act’s name (which stands for “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform”) makes it sound like this legislation will help students, Bussey warned otherwise.
“It made a lot of changes, (but) … a lot of folks were like, ‘This is gonna really maybe not do some great things for college affordability and could cause a lot of problems,’” Bussey said.
The act would have dramatically changed the way that four major loan repayment programs work. According to Bussey, PROSPER would discontinue interest-subsidized loans, eliminate income-driven repayment plans, make public service loan forgiveness practically inaccessible and loosen consumer protections.
Because of several factors, these changes would disproportionately affect certain members of the LGBTQ+ community. Bussey explained that the levels of educational attainment were somewhat similar between the general population and the LGBTQ+ community, but that within the LGBTQ+ community, certain groups had differing levels. For example, gay men were the least likely group in the LGBTQ+ community to have attained just a high school diploma, and trans people had higher rates of formal educational attainment than the general population.
This high level of educational attainment also leads to a high level of student loan debt for these groups. As Bussey noted, this is compounded by higher rates of poverty within the LGBTQ+ community as compared to the general population.
“What they (Student Loan Hero, an online resource for information on student loans) found when looking at national data of student loan debt, and looking at, demographically, at the LGBTQ community, they actually found that queer and trans students actually report on average a lot higher levels of student debt,” Bussey said. “So, on average, LGBTQ students report about $16,000 more in debt than their straight, cisgender peers. … What we see, though, is that yeah, statistically we’re seeing higher levels of debt that queer and trans people carry as a result of their education.”
After the presentation, eighth-semester molecular and cell biology major Brian Aguilera pointed out how changes in student loans might affect members of the LGBTQ+ community because many students in this population don’t rely on their parents.
“LGBTQ communities are technically getting more higher education than the general population, but are still having a very high poverty rate,” Aguilera said. “And if we’re getting higher education and the loans are not the best, since you know, like many folks in the community don’t depend on their parents … you depend like completely on loans.”
Eighth-semester psychology major Hannah Meyers echoed Aguilera’s concerns: “You have estranged families, and you’re not talking to your parents; you don’t have financial support.”
In his conclusion, Bussey urged his audience to make an effort to understand what responsibilities they are signing on to when they take out a student loan and to stay aware of any changes that might affect student loans. At least one attendee, Meyers, heeded Bussey’s advice.
“I learned that I need to pay more attention to my own financial aid because I just – like he said – click the (agree to terms and conditions) button,” Meyers said.
Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.