“Get on your feet” gives graduates an incentive to stay in New York

Union College held the 221st Commencement Exercises in Hull Plaza on Sunday June 14, 2015.
Stephen Geller and Julian Gendels smile for the camera during the commencement.MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Union College held the 221st Commencement Exercises in Hull Plaza on Sunday June 14, 2015. Stephen Geller and Julian Gendels smile for the camera during the commencement.


CLIFTON PARK — New York state is offering recent graduates an incentive to remain in the empire state with its “Get On Your Feet” loan forgiveness program, however some New Yorkers remain skeptical of the plan’s long-term benefits and others who do not qualify are downright insulted.

Anyone who graduated college in New York state in or after December 2014, and now makes less than $50,000 working in the state could qualify for up to two years of loan forgiveness. This plan appears to be a god-send for recent graduates at first glance, however there’s a slight catch.

The program only accepts graduates enrolled in income-based repayment plans and pay-as-you-earn repayment plans. This way the state is responsible for the minimum monthly payment — far less than graduates enrolled in standard repayment plans would be paying. Income-based repayment (IBR) plans and pay-as-you-earn repayment plans may offer lower monthly payments but result in a heftier long-term cost than standard plans. Interest continues to accrue on student loans during this program, as well.

Clifton Park Town Councilwoman Amy Standaert shared her thoughts on the program, saying “These programs are an advantage for college graduates and their acceptance into a forgiveness program should be tied to service to their community. Unfortunately, our graduates are leaving the state because they lack confidence in New York. When we as a state are finally on a path that creates an atmosphere of economic growth and growing job opportunities, our graduates will be happy to continue calling New York State their home.”

“If New York state has decided this is a program they support, it should not be income based,” said Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett. He added, “It makes no sense to me that someone working hard to make $51,000 a year shouldn’t be eligible.”

Most of the plan’s critics are New Yorkers who make more than $50,000 or who earned their diplomas before the program’s December 2014 cutoff — folk overwhelmed by their own debt who are now frustrated they’ll be footing the bill to help more recent graduates “get on their feet.”

Clifton Park resident Andy Heffner is one of those frustrated New Yorkers. Upon learning of the “Get on your feet” loan forgiveness program, Heffner said simply, “That sucks.”

Heffner, who graduated from SUNY Empire State College in 2013 with a BS in IT and Management and now works for Shenendehowa as a Maintenance Mechanic, is dismayed that his tax dollars will be erasing others’ student debt while he continues to make his own payments.
Schenectady resident Nicholas DiMoro earned a Public Relations degree from SUNY Oswego in 2013. A first generation college graduate who comes from a blue collar family in Schenectady, DiMoro said he signed every loan he was offered as an undergraduate student. “I worked at least 30 hours a week while taking overloaded class schedules in addition to a bunch of extra curriculars. I completed three internships — none of which turned into a job.”

Since he graduated in 2013, DiMoro does not qualify for the loan forgiveness program. “This plan does absolutely nothing to help alleviate any of the financial stress of my $80,000 bill,” said DiMoro. He added, “Thanks for nothing, Cuomo.”

Now, three years after he was handed a diploma and saddled with $80,000 in student debt, DiMoro wishes he had done things differently. “Knowing what I know now, I might not do all of that loan signing again, but I was younger, not as jaded, and every single semester I was unsure if I was going to be cleared for a new disbursement and be allowed to continue my education. I did it all because I felt I had no other option.”

After hopping from one unpromising job to another with no relevance to his goals or education, DiMoro dove into the uncertain world of freelancing. “Work is very slow, few and far between and not enough to service my crushing debt.” The 2013 graduate said he’s done with the system in the U.S. and is preparing to take a job teaching English in Korea, a leap which he calls “a much needed break from this madness.”

“I understand not everyone is in it as deep as I am,” said DiMoro, as he arranges plans to find work in another part of the world. “But there are many who are.”