Dam the Debt Takes Off
In a move that shows fresh initiative and immediate action to make higher education more affordable, Washington College President Sheila Bair today announced that the College’s Dam the Debt program will reduce the debt of all graduating seniors carrying federally subsidized loans this semester by more than $313,000. This is the first payment under the new program, which is the only one of its kind at a U.S. college or university. Initiated last fall after Bair, the former chairman of the FDIC, was inaugurated as Washington College’s 28th president, Dam the Debt has already raised nearly $1 million committed over four years; the College hopes to raise at least $2 million more for future debt reductions.
“We want our students to be both academically and financially prepared when they graduate from college,” Bair says. “And we are just getting started. We are grateful for the support of donors in helping us battle high student debt loads. With their help, we are moving full speed ahead.”
“Dam the Debt is an initiative like no other I have seen before,” says Lily Britt, a double major in business management and French studies from Tamarac, Florida. “I’m excited that it will relieve some stress from our overall amount of loans, and I commend President Bair for bringing so much of the spotlight to this pressing issue of exorbitant college debt that is impacting millennials nationwide.”
Dam the Debt will reduce $313,933 in federally subsidized loans for the spring 2016 semester for 119 qualifying seniors from 15 states. Amounts vary depending upon the students’ loans, but the average reduction is $2,630. The students will receive a grant from the College toward their financial aid package intended to replace the amount of the students’ federally subsidized loans taken out for the spring 2016 semester. The average total federal loan debt—subsidized and unsubsidized—for students receiving the Dam the Debt grant is $25,794. As a result of the Dam the Debt grants, the students will see, on average, a 10.2 percent reduction in their total federal loan burden before they even leave campus on graduation day.
“I applaud President Bair’s efforts to make college more affordable for Washington College students through the Dam the Debt initiative,” says Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). “Maryland families need a raise and more money in the family checkbook. I’ve traveled the state and heard directly from students, families, and educators about the costs of skyrocketing student debt. That’s why I’m fighting in the Senate to give families the opportunity to refinance their student debt at today’s low rates, and common-sense reforms like making Pell Grants year round. Higher education should be part of the American Dream, not a financial nightmare.”
Dam the Debt is funded by donors who grasp the national economic consequences of high student debt that hamstrings the ability of young adults to save or invest, buy cars and homes, and otherwise move forward economically and in their careers. Among those who have donated to the program are BB&T, blooom, inc., TD Bank, Santander Bank, Avant, and Jack Bacon ’52 and Peggy Bacon.
“At BB&T we are proud to be one of the first major supporters of this innovative Washington College program that addresses the issue of student debt,” says Rick Springer, BB&T market president. “It’s truly gratifying to know that we are going to help nearly 120 graduates move forward into their careers on solid financial footing.”
“We applaud Sheila Bair and Washington College for true thought leadership and innovation on improving a student debt system that makes it hard for young people to save and prepare for their futures,” says Chris Costello, CEO of blooom. “At blooom, we are thrilled to be part of the inaugural Dam the Debt campaign, and look forward to seeing it continue to reduce the burden that debt puts on students in their working lives and future decisions. We are excited to see its impact continue to grow in the years ahead.”
Dam the Debt represents only one facet of Bair’s campaign to increase college affordability and access. She has also launched George’s Brigade, which provides financial and social support to high-performing, high-need students. By covering the students’ full tuition, room, and board, and allowing them to apply with others from their community and high school, the initiative works to guarantee the success of students who would not otherwise have had access to an excellent private liberal arts education.
Bair developed and spearheaded these programs in response to the growing student debt crisis. As college degrees have become increasingly valuable, but wages have remained stagnant, students and families have had to rely on financial aid to pay for higher education. Some 40 million Americans financed their education through borrowing. To put this number in perspective, there are more people in America with student loans than live in Canada.
“Washington College is a tight-knit community,” Bair says. “And this kind of targeted philanthropy will help ensure that this community lives on for years to come. We are grateful to BB&T, blooom, and so many others for their support of Dam the Debt.”