Former DU Grad Students Ask for Debt Relief

Recently a group of former graduate students who attended the University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies wrote to the school’s dean asking for debt relief. The students cited the fact that the school reduced the cost of a master’s degree from about $53,000 to $38,000 per year in 2020.

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One of the students who signed the letter, Jeanne Crump who graduated in 2016 from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, says they are asking the university to pay them back $15,000 per year of enrollment.

Starting in 2020, students can now receive a Master’s degree from DU’s Korbel School for $38,000, as opposed to the previous cost of $53,000 per student.

Signees of the letter say they are pleased the university chose to lower the cost of the program but Crump adds the letter the 120 students wrote asking for loan forgiveness remains an important step. “This cry for justice of some sort is really about a larger issue of trying to bring awareness to how exploitative higher educations institutions can be.”

In the letter, the students say,

“It is widely acknowledged that the United States is facing a crisis of student debt. Student debt
is now at​ ​$1.5 trillion​, and we are just a few of the 45 million people affected. While it receives
less attention, graduate studies account for ​40% of government debt​, up from 32% in 2002, and
data from 2016 indicate that ​51% of student-loan carrying households​ ​have at least one
member with an advanced degree.
In short, the burden of debt is unsustainable, and among other issues, is contributing to a
growing inter-generational ​wealth gap​ that is affecting us both financially and emotionally.”

Erika Hepburn, who also graduated from the Master’s program at Korbel says that the amount of debt that she has as a result of her graduate studies has had a crippling effect on her life.

“I could very well tear up talking about it,” said Hepburn, “The Master’s degree required that I accrue well over $150,000 in debt and I had to take out private loans and the federal loans…for most of my career more than a third of my income was going to my student loans and that’s been incredibly difficult.”

Crump didn’t want to reveal exactly how much debt she carriers for her student loans but she says it’s equivalent to paying off a house, “which means I will not be owning an actual house anytime in the near future.”

For Hepburn the debt is “a very difficult weight to carry”, impacting her relationships, her health and requiring that she work two jobs. She says a recent raise is easing the financial stress of her loans but she is still barely able to make all her monthly loan payments.

When I asked what she would tell younger students considering their future education Hepburn said, “I would say look at the public institutions, look at the alternative tracks, to taking some of your initial credits at a community college. It’s not worth taking on that cost.”

The dean of DU’s Josef Korbel School, Fritz Mayer, told the Denver Post the school cares about the student’s debts and they will continue to work to minimize those costs. However, directly referencing the 120 student’s written request for a partial refund, Mayer told the Denver Post, “we are confident that we met all our educational responsibilities to these students and provided a strong foundation for their future success.”