Last week, a group of senior participants in the Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program (KEEP) met with President Sean Decatur to express their concerns about being left out of the “loan forgiveness” financial aid package available to the KEEP member classes under them.
In the meeting, Decatur explained to the students that the term they had been using to describe such a financial package was misleading: Kenyon offers no federal loan relief for students. However, their efforts underscored a wider conversation about the necessity to support graduating seniors as they enter society in the midst of a pandemic and resulting recession.
“It was a good conversation both to check in to see how folks are doing, but then also to discuss more directly the issues that have been brought up by some other students,” President Decatur said. “Actually, I’d only received one letter from a KEEP senior, but [had gotten] letters from other students about the idea of loan relief. And so, as I explained to that group, we are looking at broader questions around financial support and questions about what type of financial support for current students, which would include graduating seniors, is possible.”
The confusion around “loan forgiveness” comes from a change in policy that began with the KEEP class of 2021. Starting with this class, KEEP students now automatically receive no-loan packages with their acceptances into the program. In these cases, the portion of the financial aid package covered by federal loans is replaced with grant money to meet financial need. This differs from the idea of loan forgiveness, which implies that loans are taken out in the first place.
“In essence, the KEEP ‘scholarship’ that began in Fall 2017 is the enhancement to a need-based package that replaces what would have otherwise been loans and work-study. It is one of the academic/leadership scholarships that the Office of Admissions manages for recruiting students and the funding comes out of the merit scholarship budget,” Craig Slaughter, director of financial aid, wrote in an email to the Collegian.
This meeting happened after Teddy Hannah-Drullard ’20 posted a letter on Facebook, which they also emailed to Decatur and other senior staff, expressing the concerns that they and fellow senior KEEP participants had over not being granted so-called “loan forgiveness” during this time. Hannah-Drullard had reached out in an effort to make sure that the 17 senior participants in KEEP—many of whom, they explained, were experiencing exceptionally strenuous financial circumstances because of the crisis—were being adequately accommodated by the College.
They expressed relief that President Decatur and senior staff had been discussing ways to provide a form of financial support for all seniors, not just those in the KEEP program, during the crisis.
“I never thought it would be a possibility that the College would cover any loans for all seniors, so I’m like, ‘How about just this tiny population that would have gotten loan forgiveness anyway had they come in one year later,’” Hannah-Drullard said.
“I think it’s important that Sean said, ‘Don’t worry if the government says to do something, Kenyon’s gonna do that and more … Even if the government doesn’t pull through with any kind of assistance for the class of 2020 regarding loans in the future, I want to make sure how, at the very least, the students with the most financial need at Kenyon, regardless of what the government says, [get assistance],’” they added.
President Decatur also noted that the College is following federal updates closely as they look into providing financial support for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the other things we are watching is what the federal policy around loan relief is, because in terms of comprehensive support for loan relief—and at least in terms of my policy bias—that is actually the right place for loan relief to come from, as opposed to falling on institutions to do,” Decatur said. “We talked about that last week as well — wanting to make sure that all of the possibilities in federal support for students are being followed through and hopefully enacted in some way before the College would make any decisions on that front.”