Clinics offer hope to those with student debt

When Kristen Croft heard OSEA was partnering with AFT to offer a series of student debt clinics in Oregon, the president of Beaverton Chapter 48 signed up right away for two reasons.

“First, I felt it was very important for me as a chapter leader to support this type of event so I have a better idea of what types of assistance AFT offers,” she said.

“I also have a good amount of student debt.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten, right, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown address attendees of a student debt clinic held Oct. 23 in Portland, expressing their commitment to finding solutions to the student debt crisis.

Croft has traveled what she calls a “non-traditional” education route that included four different colleges and universities over the past 15 years.

“It has been up to me to figure out how to pay for college,” she said. “My parents have helped where they could, but, with the high costs of tuition, I have incurred a significant amount of student loan debt.”

Croft said she hopes to wrap up her college career next year with a Bachelor of Science degree, so the timing of the AFT clinics was ideal. She attended two clinics — one held in Beaverton on Oct. 13 and another in Portland on Oct. 23 that also featured a visit by AFT President Randi Weingarten and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

“After the Beaverton clinic, I had an idea of how things would work but felt another review would be helpful — and it was,” Croft said. “It can be a lot of information to process. … The biggest difference the second go around was being prepared and knowing what to expect.”

Croft said having AFT’s president and the governor visit was also part of the draw of the Portland clinic.

“I thought it was great to have Randi and Kate visit,” she said. “I was able to see they have an understanding of the burden and frustration that comes with student loan debt, and are committed to finding ways to help us deal with this problem.”

The clinics provide information about the landscape of free and underused federal programs that help borrowers lower their monthly payments and, in some cases, even have their debt forgiven. Croft found that the clinics are geared toward school employees and the programs mentioned apply to many of the situations classified employees can find themselves in.

“Learning about the programs, how to access them and how to talk to loan servicers were the most helpful things I learned,” Croft said, adding that the presenter had a wealth of knowledge and that she appreciated his ability to create a relaxed environment when discussing a topic as stress-inducing as student debt.

Croft said her biggest take away from the clinics was: “There is help out there.”

“I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I don’t feel like I will forever be tied to the financial choices I had to make in order to get an education, and that is a huge relief.”

Croft said anyone who has student loan debt should try to attend a clinic. OSEA and AFT will be hosting two more clinics in November — Corvallis on Nov. 15 and Eugene on Nov. 16 — with more expected in the future.

Croft suggests people should get familiar with the kinds of loans they have before attending a clinic.

“That can really help you figure out which programs are going to be good options,” she said.

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