Student loan debt is crippling for Arkansas college alumni

Total student loan debt in Arkansas now stands at $15.5 billion, with the average borrower owing $36,951 according to the Department of Education and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Student Loan Justice, a national research-based organization, says Arkansas is among the worst states in terms of average debt per borrower relative to average incomes.

Last year, Senator Richard J. DurbinD-IL, introduced the The FRESH START Act through Bankruptcywhich allows student loans to be treated like bankruptcy.

The bill “would make federal student loan debt dischargeable in bankruptcy proceedings ten years after the first loan payment is due, in addition to being dischargeable at any time in the event of undue hardship, such as under current law.

However, this bill did not receive enough sponsors to make it to the Senate. Senator from Arkansas Tom Cotton was asked to sponsor this bill, but did nothing. His office did not respond to our interview request.

Madelyn Escojido, a 2021 graduate of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, works as a parole and probation officer at the Arkansas Department of Community Corrections and as a waitress at Bricktown Brewery.

She has more than $20,000 in student loans to repay after the August 31 break ends. She could still start paying now, but she could miss the Biden administration’s loan forgiveness.

After:The student loan break is expected to be lifted in September. Should borrowers repay or wait for forgiveness?

Escojido said she was “disowned” by her parents after coming out as gay. She figured it would happen since her family is Southern Baptist.

“I moved away when I was 18 and have been supporting myself ever since,” she said. “I’m better off without the negativity. I have no contact with my mom, my brother, or my mom’s side of the family.”

Madelyn Escojido had to pay in full for her college degree at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith after her family disowned her for being gay.

When she started dating her first girlfriend in 2020, she decided to tell her mom.

“She called me a pig, she told me I was evil,” she recalls. “She told me she didn’t recognize me anymore. She told me I wasn’t her daughter anymore.”

Escojido has since received a letter from her mother stating that she was waiting for her to come home and “God is waiting” for her to return to their religion.

In the 2000s Baptist Faith and Message Statementthe Southern Baptist Church equates “homosexuality” with adultery and pornography, stating, “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose…all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality and pornography.”

Madelyn Escojido is now a parole and probation officer for the Arkansas Department of Community Corrections after earning her bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

Escojido said she wasn’t sure what she believed in when it came to religion. Now her mental health and her job as a parole officer come first.

As a parole officer, she refers clients to mental health and addictions resources such as the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Centerthe “Rock House” of the Orientation Center and harbor house.

“I’ve had a few (clients) come out of rehab and they’re like, ‘Thank you for getting me out,'” she said.

Escojido said she’s seen lives saved in the field and parolees overdosed. All Arkansas officers are trained to administer naloxone, an opioid antagonist, to save those who overdose.

She doesn’t mind working 70 hours a week, if it pays her bills and helps her save for her next student loan payment.

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