Charlotteans share perspectives on Supreme Court’s debt relief rejection

In Charlotte, the Supreme Court’s decision concerning student loan debt did not go over well with some borrowers.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 against Biden’s effort to cancel up to $20,000 per borrower in federal student loan debt.

Why it matters: The federal student loan portfolio currently totals more than $1.6 trillion, owed by about 43 million borrowers, according to Forbes.

Federal student loan payments have been paused since March 2020, but after more than three years, payments are set to resume in October. Local borrowers have expressed concerns with how they will address their debt.

QCity Metro interviewed several current and former college students impacted by student loan debt who shared their perspectives on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Changing career paths

Makala McGowan graduated from N.C. Central University in 2021. Photo courtesy of Makala McGowan

Makala McGowan, a 24-year-old North Carolina Central University graduate, kept her expectations low when Biden announced his debt-relief plan last year.

“I knew Biden would have an uphill battle trying to get it passed, and last Friday’s vote proved me right,” she said.

McGowan, who works in childcare, hasn’t had to make a payment since she graduated in June 2021.

She said she knows her $20,000 loan is an obstacle she’ll eventually have to address.

“It has caused some stress because the career that I’m in doesn’t pay well,” she said.

McGowan said she plans to pursue her Master’s degree in Social Work in January – the pay increase was one of her deciding factors.

She hopes her new career will offer the financial stability needed to afford her loan payments.

“If it happens, it happens,” McGowan said of Biden’s plan to pursue an alternative debt relief option. “I’m just going to focus on how I can pay it off.”

Cutting cost

Melody Compton (middle) with her youngest two daughters, Karma (left) and Lyric (right). Photo courtesy of Meldy Compton

The Supreme Court’s decision highlights a trend of systematic oppression targeting low-income and middle-class families, Melody Compton said. 

“Right now, that debt is keeping us and weighing us down.”

As a kid, Melody Compton witnessed her mother work a second job to make student loan payments from her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In fact, Compton said her mother still does today at 74 years old.  

“She still owes quite a bit,” Compton said. “She looks at it like she’ll be making payments until she dies.”

Compton said she realized early on that she didn’t want to attend college, and when after graduating from Myers Park in 2000, she chose an entrepreneurial route.

Now, as a mother of three, Compton has tried to figure out ways for her daughters to pursue their career goals without obtaining large amounts of student debt.

Her oldest daughter earned a partial track scholarship to college and her family paid the remainder of tuition out of pocket, Compton said.

Her middle daughter is a rising junior at Mallard Creek High School and plans to take dual enrollment courses at Central Piedmont Community College in the fall. The courses will count towards college credits, lessening her time in school, she said.

Compton said it’s important for parents to talk to their kids early about their career aspirations to plan the best and most affordable options. 

“We have to be smart about the decisions we make regarding college,” she said. “The long-term goal is to graduate with the least amount of debt as possible.”

Searching for an American Dream

Austin Jefferson pictured above. Photo courtesy of Austin Jefferson

Austin Jefferson understands the importance of the “American Dream.” He comes from a family of immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica and London, hoping for a better life in the United States, he said.

But that dream seems far from realistic for him with over $20,000 in student loan debt, Jefferson said.

The 2021 UNC Charlotte graduate received federal student loans and worked part-time jobs to cover expenses while he was in school. He did this while managing the workload of his political science courses.

Since entering post-graduate life, Jefferson said he’s been in “survival mode,” trying to manage his finances while working entry-level jobs in his field.

He was relying on Biden’s debt cancellation plan to relieve the financial burden he’s been able to avoid while payments are paused. After the Supreme Court’s decision, Jefferson fears that he will need to get an additional part-time job once payments resume. 

‘I’m already on a tight budget now. There is little room for error with my money management,” he said.

Post-graduate worries

Zephaniah Cox, a rising senior at Johnson C. Smith University, earned a full scholarship during his junior season in track and field, but prior to his scholarship, he was already $10,000 in student loan debt.  

Cox said he was surprised by the ruling but believes Biden wrote “a check he can’t cash” with less Democratic support in the Supreme Court.

Cox said the real issue is the cost of school and pay compared to the overall debt. Many students struggle to find postgraduate jobs after college that pay enough for them to maintain their high student loan debt, he said.

He is currently pursuing his degree in sport management. The field, he said, is competitive, and he worries he’ll have trouble finding employment.

“I’m nervous about finding the right job,” he said. 

Cox said he believes as student loan debt rises, more students will choose not to go to college. Social media is a contributing factor as more kids look to pursue content creation and entrepreneurship, he said.

“I know a track athlete who makes more on TikTok than he would be playing the sport professionally,” he said.

Since the court’s ruling, Biden announced plans to pursue an alternative debt relief program to help as many borrowers as possible ahead of the October deadline.

“I will stop at nothing to find other ways to deliver relief to hard-working middle-class families,” Biden said in a statement. “ My Administration will continue to work to bring the promise of higher education to every American.”

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