The Magic and Misdirection of Public Service Loan Forgiveness in the United States

by Adam Felts

AgeLab Research Scientist Julie Miller is the lead author of a paper published in Higher Education Quarterly on student loan borrowers’ attitudes, worries, and hopes about the U.S. Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. AgeLab researchers Luke Yoquinto and Joseph Coughlin, as well as Boston College researcher Matthew Rutledge, contributed and co-authored.

The paper, titled “The magic and misdirection of Public Service Loan Forgiveness in the United States,” is especially timely given the major updates to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program introduced by the U.S. Department of Education in October 2021. The paper reports findings from a study that utilized surveys and focus groups with student loan borrowers.

The paper observes borrowers’ mixed attitudes of hope that they will have their loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program with uncertainty about the program’s future, its complex requirements for eligibility, and its extremely low present rate of approval for applicants. Borrowers committed to making low income-driven repayments on their loans—as the loan forgiveness program requires—contended with the anxiety that they may face a protracted and onerous period of repayment period if their loans were not forgiven under the program.

The paper emphasizes the balance of practical thinking and faith that borrowers exhibit in committing to the loan forgiveness program. “[The] focus groups … pointed to PSLF as a strategic repayment decision, a risk, an obligation, and a beacon of hope … national survey results further emphasized PSLF as a risk and as a professional obligation.”

Learn more here.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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