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OCC set to implement student debt forgiveness, removing financial barrier to higher ed

Orange Coast College students will be eligible for outstanding debt forgiveness, according to an announcement by Coast Community College District Chancellor John Weispfenning on Aug. 3. More than $1.8 million in federal COVID-19 Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) allocations have been identified to pay off and forgive outstanding debt that OCC students accumulated from Spring 2020 through Spring 2022.

“A number of our students have struggled to recover from the financial hardship caused by the COVID pandemic,” says OCC President Angelica Suarez. “This debt relief will remove a financial barrier for students in an intentional way that benefits not just the student, but the entire campus community.”

Resident fees for California community colleges are $46 per unit. Orange Coast College has worked to maximize financial aid for students, including through Federal Student aid and OCC’s Pirates’ Promise program, which covers tuition and textbook costs for up to two years for first-time students. However, students who withdraw from classes after receiving financial aid may be required to pay that money back. These and other costs can accumulate and lock students out from registration.

“This is a critical time to support our community,” says Vice President of Student Services Madjid Niroumand. “I am really excited that we were able to pay off our students’ debt so that they can hopefully return and pursue their education.”

Associated Students of Orange Coast College President Mason Espinoza echoes that sentiment. “The decision by the Coast District Board of Trustees to pay off student debt will have an immediate impact on OCC students who have faced financial struggles in the wake of the COVID pandemic,” Espinoza says. “It’s the hope of ASOCC that this debt forgiveness will pave the way for more students to return to campus and have fun, meet new people, and further their educational and career path by participating in one of the many excellent programs and clubs OCC has to offer.”

The debt payoff and forgiveness will happen automatically for eligible current and former students. OCC will contact students to notify them that debts are cleared and financial holds on registration have been removed. The Coast District Board of Trustees will review the details of the debt-relief rollout on August 17, 2022.

This article was released by Orange Coast College.