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You don’t land a dream job in academia without multiple degrees. Unfortunately, for many, that means taking on significant student loan debt.
On average, student loan borrowers who complete a graduate degree owe $57,600 in combined undergraduate and graduate student loans, according to a report from the New America Foundation.
Then there’s the issue of the competitive career field of college professors. Median pay is a decent $75,430 for postsecondary instructors. But to get to this higher salary, you’ll have to stand out in a large pool of well-qualified candidates vying for a small number of tenure-track positions.
However, there is hope. There are several options for making student loan debt more manageable – including programs that award student loan forgiveness specifically for professors. Here’s what you need to know about repayment options and student loan forgiveness for college professors.
Student loan forgiveness for college professors
If you’re a doctoral graduate who’s working toward tenure while repaying student loans, that debt can limit your choices for employment and add to your stress. Essentially, rather than making professional choices based on your career goals, you may instead focus on your income so you can pay back your loans.
But here’s the good news: There are programs that offer student loan forgiveness for college professors that can help you handle your debt. Here are a few you should know about.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
One option for student loan forgiveness for professors is Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). This program, started in 2007, grants student loan forgiveness after 10 years to borrowers working in public service fields.
Find out if your college qualifies for PSLF
Your eligibility for PSLF mostly depends on the institution at which you are teaching or researching. You will need to meet the following requirements:
- Work for a government organization. Professors at public state colleges or city colleges might satisfy this requirement for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
- Work for a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which most private, not-for-profit colleges are. If the college you work for is a public college or not-for-profit private school, that’s a good sign your work qualifies you for PSLF.
Because of this, it’s not just college professors who can apply for PSLF. Other administrators, faculty, and staff of nonprofit colleges could also apply for PSLF.
If you think the college professors at your school could apply for PSLF, you can try to certify your employer’s eligibility using this form. Once it’s processed, you’ll get a letter in response indicating if your employer qualifies for PSLF.
Work 30 hours or more for qualified employers
To qualify for PSLF student loan forgiveness for professors, you’ll also need to work at least 30 hours a week for qualify. Each student loan payment made while meeting these requirements counts toward the 120 payments needed to qualify for PSLF.
Adjunct faculty will be happy to know that they don’t need to work all of those 30 hours at one job. If they teach a few classes at a college and work another part-time job at a qualified employer, they can combine their hours working for each eligible employer to satisfy the 30-hour requirement.
To maximize the benefits of PSLF, borrowers should adjust their repayment plans from a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan to an income-driven plan. This will keep monthly payments affordable. Plus, it will allow them to pay less now, and have a remaining balance that can be forgiven after 120 payments.
Additionally, college instructors might start out teaching in grade school and work their way up to postsecondary instruction. If you take this path, you might qualify for help through the options in our guide to student loan forgiveness for teachers.
Faculty Loan Repayment Program (FLRP)
In addition to PSLF, college professors at a health professions school or medical school could be eligible for student loan forgiveness through the Faculty Loan Repayment Program (FLRP).
Offered by the Health Resources & Service Administration (HRSA), FLRP helps offset the often-high student debt of nurses, physicians, doctors, and other health professionals who choose to teach.
FLRP also grants up to $40,000 in loan repayment assistance for up to two years of teaching. Plus, FLRP will pay additional assistance to help offset the tax burden triggered by student loan forgiveness.
To qualify, HRSA states you must apply for the program and meet the following requirements:
- Demonstrate a disadvantaged background, based on either environmental or economic factors (or both).
- Hold a qualifying health professions degree.
- Commit to working as a faculty member at an FLRP-approved health professions institution for a minimum of two years.
Other ways college professors can manage student debt
If student loan forgiveness doesn’t seem like a realistic option for you, it might be advantageous to look into other options to manage student loans. Here are some student loan repayment options to consider.
Refinance student loans
As a college professor, you might be a good candidate to refinance your student loans to lower rates. You could choose a shorter loan term, enabling you to pay off debt faster with larger payments now. Or you could stretch out repayment over a longer period to lower payments and keep them affordable.
Even if you choose a longer repayment period, you could still pay less over the life of the loan if you’re able to decrease your interest rate.
You should be aware that refinancing federal student loans has some drawbacks. You’ll lose access to repayment plans and assistance, such as income-driven repayment plans or deferment. Your loans will also lose PSLF eligibility.
However, if you’re focused on repaying debt, refinancing could help you get ahead in this goal. See for yourself how much you could save with this student loan refinancing calculator.
Income-driven repayment plans
Another option to lower student loan payments is to enroll in an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. These will decrease your monthly costs to match your income and costs of living. Thus, your payments are always affordable.
Certain IDR plans also come with student loan forgiveness after you make payments for 20-25 years. Taking advantage of IDR plans can also be a smart way to manage payments if you’re working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness. See your options and how to enroll in these programs with our guide to income-driven repayment plans.
Make extra payments on student loans
Refinancing or switching to a different repayment plan can keep your debt manageable. But college professors can take the biggest chunks out of their monthly payments and interest costs by making extra payments toward student loans.
That’s how college professor Amanda Page repaid $47,000 in student loans. Page set her mind to get out of debt and made this her main financial goal. She employed a few key strategies to pay off student debt on a professor’s salary:
- Read personal finance books and researched effective methods to manage debt.
- Took on side gigs and extra work to increase her income.
- Lowered living expenses by getting a roommate and budgeting.
- Limited spending on non-necessities.
- Paid extra on high-interest student loans first.
With more money coming in and less going out, Page had additional funds to put towards her student debt. She paid off most of her large balance in just a year.
Compare student loan forgiveness for professors with other repayment options
As a college professor, you will probably face some lean years when work is tough, pay is low, and your student loan payments are hard to manage. Student loan forgiveness for professors can be one effective way of managing high student debt.
However, student loan forgiveness for college professors might not be possible or advantageous for every person in this profession.
Research your full range of options for repaying student debt. This will help you choose the most beneficial course of action and make adjustments as needed.
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