Fresh Start Initiative distributes $1M debt relief to SBCC students

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August Lawrence

A view of City College’s West Campus from the West Campus Center in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Sydney Hammer, Staff Writer

City College’s Fresh Start Initiative has allowed approximately 2,000 students to be relieved of their debt, giving them the opportunity to continue their educational journey.

“When we learned that the school was opening up the idea of initiatives that would help students get through challenges presented by the pandemic, it materialized the idea of being able to clear balances,” Student Finance Advisor Nicole Hubert said.

The Fresh Start Initiative and the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) allocated $1 million to be given to students with remaining balances in their accounts. Students were selected to receive relief by their academic term.

“We ran a list of all of our students who have financial holds and identified all the dollar amounts, then we started with our first pandemic term, Spring 2020, wrote all that off and then moved forward,” Hubert said.

Nothing has been done yet for the fall semester of 2021 or the spring semester of 2022.

The HEERF bill gives funds to institutions to support students with immediate needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apart from grants such as the CARES Act, which has been given to students through the pandemic, students didn’t directly receive money from the Fresh Start Initiative.

“This is not a financial aid program, this is purely a debt relief program,” Hubert said. “That money is 100% clearing debts off student accounts…This was simply an opportunity for students to come back to school, by clearing their debt.”

The idea of the debt relief was brought to conversation in April of 2021, and then the money was applied for.

“The Fresh Start Initiative was an opportunity for the college to do something truly meaningful for City College students who had been hurt during the COVID crisis,” Interim Superintendent-President Kindred Murillo said.

The process of writing off debt was not an application matter as they didn’t want students getting their hopes up.

“We wrote off their balance and then sent them an email letting them know we did that,” Hubert said.

Since then the student finance advisor has received handwritten letters, phone calls and emails from students who were thankful to have been given the opportunity to return to school.

The HEERF funds were a one-time relief given to institutions, so this debt relief may not happen again.

“It was meant to help students directly impacted by COVID-19 as it had disproportionate impacts on many students,” Murillo said. “We can always hope the longer this goes on that we will receive some more assistance for students.”

There are more grants to be given in the near future, with another round of CARES Act grants arriving soon to help with the Spring 2022 semester.