Over 3,000 South Texas College students with unpaid balances from recent semesters will have the burden of tuition debt lifted off their shoulders after a decision to use pandemic relief funds on their behalf was made by board members Tuesday.

The STC Board of Trustees unanimously voted at a meeting Tuesday to approve the discharge of student debt acquired over the fall of 2020 to spring 2021, totaling $1.9 million.

According to STC officials there is no cap on individual debt forgiveness on tuition for the time allotted during the pandemic, and the debt will not be referred to collection agencies.

However, the funds will not cover other student debt like parking tickets or overdue library charges.

STC officials said they will reach out to each student via email or text as early as Friday to notify them if their account qualifies for debt discharge.

The only requirements to qualify include having outstanding tuition debt that was acquired over the fall 2020 and spring 2021 school terms. Students do not need to take any action to accept this relief once they have been contacted. 

Due to the extraneous conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund indicate the funds can be used to reimburse sources of lost revenue, including unpaid student balances.

“We hope people get a new start, a new beginning and we want to give them an opportunity to really do better in their lives,” Rose Benavidez, STC board chair, said.

People walk the South Texas Collage Pecan campus on Wednesday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

For many, this tuition discharge means the opportunity to continue pursuing their careers, like for Luis Hilberto Vazquez, a student at STC who incurred $700 in tuition debt in the spring of 2021.

Vazquez is pursuing a degree to become an HVAC technician and said prior to the announcement he was worried about how he would pay back the money since he recently fathered a child and rented an apartment. 

“I feel very relieved,” he said. “I feel very grateful that they were able to help students out that weren’t able to pay off their tuition and that they are wanting us to continue our education like I am.”

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, praised the college and continued to stress implementing national debt relief.

“I’m proud of South Texas College’s decision to forgive student debt and provide much needed financial support,” Gonzalez wrote. “Now, it’s on Congress and President Biden to enact meaningful student loan forgiveness nationwide.” 

People walk on the South Texas College Pecan Campus on Wednesday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

In addition to the debt forgiveness, the college is awarding $1,700 to all students who register for the fall 2021 semester. The average cost of tuition for a full-time student is $1,662, leaving students with leftover money which they can claim.

Students have the choice of receiving the money or allocate it directly to their tuition and fees. 

Regardless of the amount of hours they enroll, they will receive the $1,700. 

“The importance is always going to be students and student success,” Benavidez said.

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