A brief PSA: The future of Public Service Loan Forgiveness is dire.

The popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is on the chopping block.  Here’s what this means for the current and future state of American public service workers.

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The popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is on the chopping block.  Here’s what this means for the current and future state of American public service workers.

In the Trump Administration’s latest proposal to combine the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, they have also proposed eliminating the Public Service Loan program for new borrowers. The key word here is “new borrowers”. Theoretically, this means the change wouldn’t affect people already enrolled and making payments in the program, but would instead prevent any new people from enrolling once enacted.

If you are reading this and just about to enter undergraduate or graduate school to pursue a degree in public service, or you are about to graduate with a public service or non-for-profit related degree and are investigating repayment plans, this information is for you.

For some background, here is the basic philosophy behind the “Public Service Loan Forgiveness” (PSLF) program in its current state and how it works:

The federal government loans money to someone so they can pursue an education that will help launch them into a career in public service (i.e., government work, social services, non-profit work, education, etc.). Because the earning potential in these careers is modest, at best, the PSLF program is designed to create an incentive for people to take up these very much needed and valuable career paths by promising to forgive the balance of their student loan debt after ten (10) years of consistent payments.

Once one makes 120 consistent payments (10 years), and completes the appropriate documentation to show they have made qualifying payments towards their loans, one then applies for the debt forgiveness and their remaining principal and interest balance is wiped clean. There is a lot of paperwork and documenting of income and work history along the way to ensure eligibility, but the process has been streamlined over the last few years to make this annual process very easy.  It sounds like a lot to deal with, but it is totally worth the hassle in the long run, especially if you have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

Like many Americans, I have a lot of student loan debt. Like, a lot. But because of the type of work I do, I have been fortunate to qualify for this repayment program. However, it is very concerning to me that the PSLF program is on the chopping block for elimination in the FY19 federal budget, and could potentially discourage millions of other eager young Americans interested in a career in non-profit, public service work.

Social services and non-profits are what help hold communities together, and continually fill the voids left by existing (or non-existing) federal, state, and local government programs (i.e., public arts education, non-profit shelters and relief centers, etc., ). My organization alone reaches tens of thousands of local students in Arizona, and provides them with access to arts education activities, many of which have been reduced or eliminated in their schools.

Non-profit and public service work is invaluable to the health of our communities. And as we see an ever more present need for people to enter these fields of service to meet the demands of their communities, our federal government is proposing enacting policies that will only discourage and create disincentives for doing so.

If you think you might currently be eligible for the PSLF program, will be eligible for it upon graduation, or are just genuinely concerned about its future, here are some things you can do right now:

  • Call or write your congressman and senator, and express your support for continuing this program in its current form.  If you don’t know who these people are, you can easily find out here.

 

  • After you contact these people, and you get a sense of where they stand on the issue, VOTE for them (or against) them, depending on your inclination, in the next primary and general election.  To find out when your state’s next primary election is (hint: they’re all happening right now or very soon), go here.  The next general election for Congress is November 6, 2018.  Mark your calendars.

 

  • Continue to read and follow the news around this issue.  Set Google alerts for “PSLF” and “Public Service Loan Forgiveness”.  Staying current and informed is the only way to arm oneself with the information necessary to know how to move forward.

For further reading on this topic, here is a great post about the ten most common mistakes people make in relation to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Why New Student Loan Interest Deal is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

You may have heard in the past couple days that Congress recently passed a bill to prevent student loan rates from doubling 3.4 to 6.8 percent. How “noble” of them.
What you HAVEN”T probably heard is that as part of this bill, students have now LOST the ability to defer the interest on their loans while still in school, and have LOST the 6-month grace period after they graduate to start paying on their loans. This is a big deal.

My Rachel Maddow side is about to come out…

You may have heard in the past couple days that Congress recently passed a bill to prevent student loan rates from doubling 3.4 to 6.8 percent.  How “noble” of them.
What you HAVEN”T probably heard is that as part of this bill, students have now LOST the ability to defer the interest on their loans while still in school, and have LOST the 6-month grace period after they graduate to start paying on their loans.  This is a big deal.

The bill Congress passed supposedly will cost them “an estimated $6 billion for one year.”  However, they will rake in an additional  $18 billion over the next decade from students who now will be required to pay on interest while in school, and no longer have a 6-month grace period.  I am no math genius, but I’m pretty sure Congress is coming out on top in this deal, and the average American student is getting the shaft.  Think about it.  Congress is foregoing $6 billion in revenue over 1-year by keeping the rates lower, yet they are changing provisions in the law that will require students to pay $18 billion more than before over the next 10 years.  18 divided by 10, is 1.8.  So, Congress will easily make back their $6 billion in a little under four years, leaving them an additional six years to take in additional $12 billion that they would not have otherwise collected.  Bottom line, Congress makes out well in the end.

If this all seems “off message”, and against the typical “talking point” of Congress, it’s because it is.  All we ever hear about is how “the cost of tuition is going up”, “higher education is unaffordable”, “student loan debt is such a problem in this country”, and that we must do something to stop it.  Every politician, on both sides of the aisle, spouts the same rhetoric.  And yet, a deal is made, a one-year TEMPORARY deal, that will keep interest rates lower, but require students to begin paying sooner.  This is a deal that looks good in a headline: “Congress prevents student loan rates from doubling!“, but one that actually hurts students financially right now.  Instead of more STUDENT debt, students will now have to take on more high interest CREDIT CARD debt in order to live AND begin paying off their loan interest.  In short, while the bill prevents students from paying more loan interest in the long term (at least for the next year), it forces them to come up with more money NOW, thus increasing their financial burden in the present at a time when most students have the least amount of money available to them.

I, like many, believe this is just another example of a larger problem.  The fact that more and more average, everyday Americans are forced into paying for the privilege of the 1% maintain their current obscene wealth, is a problem.  GOD FORBID we increase the marginal tax rate on upper income earners, even by only 3.5%!!! They’re the “job creators”.  Right, because the first thing that people with a lot of money want to do is spend it on hiring people and paying benefits.  In addition to not being a mathematician, I’m also not an economist, but I do understand that the last resort of a business owner or entrepreneur is to hire MORE people.  This costs money, and is only in response to an increase in demand.  However, if there is no demand because no one has money to spend on their products because they are too busy paying off STUDENT LOAN INTEREST, then there is no reason to hire more workers.  Thus, the cycle of unemployment and debt continues.  Get the picture?

Here are the details of the deal as reported by the Chicago Tribune – http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-no-more-grace-period-on-student-loans-20120628,0,4384922.story

Completing a Masters Degree in Arts Management

I write this post on the morning of my graduation day.  I had set my alarm for 9am ( I thought I would “sleep in” today), but I couldn’t sleep past 6:30am.  I suppose the excitement and anticipation were simply too great.

Today, after two years in the making, I will finally graduate from American University with an M.A. in Arts Management.  It certainly has been an interesting two years.  One thing is certain – my experiences were not what I would have predicted two years ago when I was applying for programs.  However, is this not the case with most things in life?  We often expect one thing, yet get another; for better or for worse.

So, let’s get right into it…

First, expectations.  For me, undertaking this degree was a necessary life decision.  Three years ago, I was in a job and career path that I hated.  So, I made a decision while I was still young and unencumbered with obligations, that I would “take the plunge” and go after a life and career that would be personally fulfilling.  Since I approached graduate school with this mindset, I suppose I viewed everything in the beginning with rose colored glasses; everything would peachy keen and perfect.  It was the option that made the most sense, and was the best thing for me to do if I ever wanted the opportunity to work in the arts.

Second, the reality.  But before I get into it, I know what many of you think I’m going to write.  You think I’m about to say, “grad programs in arts management are a waste of money.”; that they are “all fluff”.  Well, you’re wrong.  The truth is, those thoughts have crossed my mind, but they are not the ultimate conclusion about my experience.  It’s a little more complicated than that.  I will say that I do not think a master’s program is for everyone.  If you are thinking about entering into one, I would suggest looking over this rational and frank advice from Yale University professor on what life is like for a graduate student. This website on online masters degrees does a fairly good job as well, explaining what is involved in graduate studies, and also compares traditional masters programs with those offered though online courses. Ultimately, the choice of whether to commit to several more years of college education has to be determined on the individual level. It all depends on one’s prior experience…

Here is what these degree programs CAN do, from my perspective:

  • Fast forward your career.  If you are new to the field and/or you are making a career transition, an arts management degree can exponentially increase your professional network, and quick.  The connections I have made within the last two years, and the doors that have opened, would likely have taken twice as long if not longer had I tried to make inroads of my own.  Having the professional backing from the Arts Management program and faculty at American University undoubtedly played a tremendous part in my ability to get great internships and meet great people.
  • Lay a solid foundation of the fundamentals.  If, for example, you are ignorant of the role development plays in supporting the larger mission of an arts organization, then an arts management program can teach you.  If you have never written a grant, developed a strategic marketing plan, done prospect research, developed an organization-wide budget, or understood the complexities of the role played by governments, foundations and corporations in the support of arts and culture, then an arts management program can teach you.  You will learn about all these areas, and more.

Here is what the degree CANNOT do for you.  Again, from my perspective:

  • Act as a magic bullet.  Like with most things in life, an arts management degree is what you make of it.  By simply enrolling, coming to class, completing assignments on time, writing a Capstone and graduating, you will likely feel at the end of two years that you paid a lot of money to read some books and write papers.  Approaching it in this way will leave you just where you started two years prior, only with head full of new information and a mountain of debt.  One has to be proactive in making the degree bear fruit beyond the ivy walls.  Your career will not flourish just because you attended.
  • Add value to an already established arts management career.  I write this last point with some trepidation, as I know it will likely draw flack from “the powers that be”; those powers which depend upon enrollment in such programs for their continued survival.  My own experience has been that those who come to the degree program with a few years of arts management experience under their belt, are likely left feeling under-challenged.  The reason for this is not because what the programs teach is not valuable or correct, but because the perspective from which subjects are taught are often taught from an introductory perspective.  This is fine for people like me; people who are career transitioning or going straight from undergraduate to graduate school.  However, for someone who has worked in the field; who has dealt with boards; who has managed a strategic marketing plan; the academic instruction of these subjects might seem a little too, for lack of a better word, “academic”.

Again, please do not misunderstand my point of view.  I do believe these programs have value.  The question is:  Can they be equally beneficial to all levels of arts management experience?  To be fair, professional degree programs in arts management are young.  As an academic field, arts management is still young.  It is still exploring its surroundings and trying to figure out the world and how it fits into it.  Ultimately, I want arts management programs to offer the most comprehensive, intensive training possible.

For all those considering an arts management degree, my one point of advice would be this:  Asses your experience, assess your goals, both personally and professionally, and then make the decision.  Do not just go to graduate school because it’s what you’re “supposed to do.”  For me, it was the right decision, and I do not regret it.  For others, they may realize too late that it was a waste of time.

In the end, the answer to this intensely personal question is the same answer to most questions in arts management:

“It depends.”