Akii Butler is a Youngstown native, graduate of Kent State University, and organizer with the Ohio Student Association.
In 2015, I went to college with a dream: to build a better life for me and my family. Growing up in Youngstown, decent jobs seemed scarce and crime ran rampant; education was my ticket to success. Family members, teachers, and mentors hammered this home.
When I graduated from Kent State University in 2019, I felt like I had accomplished something monumental. I had also piled up over $30k in debt.
Following graduation, I had a hard time landing a job that paid more than minimum wage—let alone something in my field—and I had to settle for 8.70 an hour while working for McDonald’s. I was lucky to bring home $500 every other week. I did my best with what I had and paid the bills that I was able to pay—the biggest being a direct loan to Kent State.
The cancellation of student debt is something that I have longed for, so when I started working for OSA, I was able to fight for it. It wasn’t that I just didn’t want to pay it back, it was the fact that I couldn’t. No matter what I tried, somehow I was gonna be forced to choose between two bills. Do I eat or pay my student loan? Do I pay my car note and insurance or do I pay my loan? It was an impossible choice. But I continued to fight for it. As did the rest of OSA, we spoke to senators, we went to rallies and we did our best to keep it on the radar.
This past August, President Joe Biden finally announced and unveiled his plan to tackle student loan debt, something he promised during his campaign. At a quick glance the plan promises to forgive up to $10k in student loan debt and up to $20k for those who are recipients of the Pell Grant. When the news first broke I felt ecstatic. I felt like a burden would finally be lifted off of my shoulders. Even if it didn’t take all of my debt, knowing that it would get rid of some, made me feel like I actually won something in this fight. While I wish it was more, I would be lying if I said the plan didn’t give me a bit more hope.
Upon further look into the plan it actually addresses many of the issues that we have talked about. Fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, a program that has been broken for quite some time and has failed to do what it promised. The plan mentions making school more affordable, and working to double the maximum amount of the pell grant and make community college free. These are all things that will not only benefit borrowers but will also help future students as they start planning for their future.
While the cancellation of debt may not be a permanent solution, the plan as a whole shows me that they are willing to make the structural changes needed to deal with the issue for the long haul. Institutions have benefitted from borrowers for far too long. Their predatory systems have burdened us borrowers with an immense amount of debt. Borrowers are paying hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars every month, yet are barely able to get through the interest to the principal amount. Leading many of us to default and join an endless cycle that leaves us burdened with debt.
At the OSA, we’ve pushing for these kinds of changes with the understanding that education is a public good. When everyone has the opportunity to pursue their educational dreams, we all benefit. Let’s move Ohio forward together.