Everett Community College’s resident hall, Mountain View Hall. The school will forgive more than $1 million in student debt. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Everett Community College’s resident hall, Mountain View Hall. The school will forgive more than $1 million in student debt. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Everett Community College clears student debt from pandemic

The college is also providing students with free housing and up to $2,500, using federal money.

EVERETT — Everett Community College has cancelled student debt for more than 3,400 people. Using money from the American Rescue Plan Act, the college cleared any outstanding balance for students who took classes during the pandemic.

“This is probably one of the few times we will see money like this come from the federal government,” said Everett Community College President Daria Willis. “So why not spend it on students? That’s who we’re here to serve.”

In addition, the college is providing free on-campus housing for full-time students and up to $2,500 per student for educational expenses. The money comes from roughly $12 million the college received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“We looked to see how many students owed a balance on their accounts for EvCC and it was a record number,” Willis said. “… The number really highlighted for me and the team that the COVID impacts were definitely substantial on our students.”

Typically, somewhere between 500 and 700 EvCC students have an outstanding balance, Willis said. The college chose to spend the federal money on clearing the debt when it saw the number was in the thousands.

In total, Everett Community College is forgiving $1.2 million in student loans for 3,442 students who took classes spring quarter 2020 through summer quarter 2021.

The most recent federal stimulus package, as well as the first two, provided billions of dollars to U.S. colleges and universities through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund . Colleges and universities must spend at least half on emergency aid and grants for students. The other half is for institutions to cover their own costs associated with the pandemic.

Edmonds College has also received millions of dollars from all three of the federal stimulus packages. The college received about $10.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, according to a database from the American Council on Education. According to a database published by Inside Higher Ed, Edmonds College received more than $8.8 million from the CARES Act and the second round of federal coronavirus stimulus funding.

Spokesperson Karen Magarelli wrote in a statement that Edmonds College plans to distribute the American Rescue Plan Act money to students starting this quarter.

“We plan to award the majority of the money this fall and the rest in the winter and spring quarters,” Magarelli wrote.

Edmonds College has given students more than $2.5 million in emergency aid since spring 2020, according to a statement from Magarelli. The money covered expenses like child care, technology, housing and health care.

Laura McDowell, a spokesperson for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, said colleges have a lot of flexibility in how they spend the money on students.

“The federal funds that have come to colleges and universities … are meant to help our students cover expenses that they have had to face due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19,” the spokesperson said.

McDowell said housing, health care, child care, food, technology and course material are all eligible expenses. She also noted community and technical college students have been among the most heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic.

“They’re doing everything it takes,” McDowell said. “It’s difficult in the best of circumstances.”

Community and technical college students typically have lower incomes compared to students at four-year universities, McDowell said. Many are working adults with additional costs, like child care, or worked in industries that laid off a lot of staff due to COVID.

Willis, the EvCC president, hopes the extra support can give people a fresh start. Students of color held more than half the debt at EvCC, even though they only accounted for one-third of the college’s student body.

“That is another reason why it just made sense to pay the debt,” Willis said. “… It just shows they (people of color) are disproportionately impacted by COVID.”

Willis said EvCC’s decision on how to spend the money is part of the college’s effort to support students of color. The college’s Equity and Social Justice Division has a group of mentors that specifically reach out to students of color to help connect them with resources, including on-campus housing and the $2,500.

In the 2021-22 academic year, the college is providing free on-campus housing for full-time students. Willis said the student housing is about 90% full, but that the college is still taking applications. Students in the college’s housing must participate in a learning community.

“They will be grouped among their peers, by their interests and by their majors, and have monthly meetings to help support their growth and their retention and success at the college,” Willis said.

EvCC students enrolled in fall quarter classes can also apply for up to $2,500 to put toward educational expenses. Students can use the money for tuition, housing or other educational expenses, like a laptop. The money is for students who have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

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