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Southwest Tennessee Community College eliminates $1.8M in student debt

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 8:43 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Southwest Tennessee Community College is forgiving more than $1 million in student debt using federal funds.

And they’re not the only local school erasing student debt.

Southwest Tennessee Community College representatives say erasing $1.8 million in student debt accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented for their institution.

“I’ve been in higher education for a very long time,” said Jeannie Smith, CFO for Southwest Tennessee Community College. “I won’t say how long, but it’s around three decades and I’ve never seen this type of opportunity before. “For me, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve our students like we’ve never served them before.”

The debt forgiveness affects 1,600 students in total.

The college is using federal funds from the CARES Act to give students with debt the ability to re-enroll, transfer to a university, or get their transcript for job applications.

“Words can’t describe it,” Smith said. “I’ll be honest, I want to call the students myself because I want to share this good news.”

Other local community colleges are doing the same thing.

Coahoma Community College announced last week it’s using CARES Act funds to erase $430,000 in student student, while Rust College says $150,000 in student debt has been paid in full to help students impacted financially by COVID-19.

“The impact on our students was so detrimental,” said Margaret Dixon, director of research, assessment, and strategic initiatives at Coahoma Community College.“To a lot of them, they couldn’t transition. They had a hard time transitioning to distance learning.”

“It allows students to continue their education and to fulfill their dreams and to change their life,” Smith said.

One Southwest Tennessee Community College student said even though she didn’t have any outstanding debt, she thinks the debt forgiveness is a great idea and a huge help to some of her classmates.

“If you have student debt, you can’t continue your education. It kind of blocks you, so they’re getting a second opportunity. I think it’s great,” said Caroline Liggins.

Local college administrators say there’s still more funding available from the CARES Act that will be used to support students in the coming months.

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