Cleveland City Council directs ARPA funds to residents continuing higher education

While Biden’s student loan forgiveness program is on pause, Cleveland City Council passed legislation to advertise the various resources available that could allow people to pay off their debt and resume courses. 


Photo provided by College Now Greater Cleveland of an Adult Learner

On Feb. 6, Cleveland City Council approved legislation that could allow Cleveland residents with some college experience to have their debt forgiven and resume courses.   

The legislation passed by the city council will put $300,000 of the federal funds it had received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act toward advertising residents to finish their degrees and to show them that College Now Greater Cleveland, whose mission is to increase postsecondary education attainment, can connect them with various resources to pay off their debt and continue their education.   

Maggie McGrath, the executive director of the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland, said there are two main resources that they will be helping Cleveland residents connect with to pay back their debt and further their studies.   

One program, the College Comebacker Compact, is a group of eight schools — four community colleges and four state universities — that offer up to $5,000 in debt forgiveness to return to any one of the schools regardless of which one of the eight a student had previously attended. The schools in this group include Cuyahoga County Community College, Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College, Stark State College, Cleveland State University, Kent State University, Stark State University and Youngstown State University.  

McGrath said that BW is not a part of the compact because they differ in their “student profile” compared to the other eight institutions.   

“If you think about BW, it’s a little bit more of a competitive institution,” McGrath said. “Those institutions typically are on the same skill of competitiveness and have kind of the same profile in that regard.”   

The other program is up to $2,000 offered by the Cuyahoga County Council. It is only offered to residents of Cuyahoga County who had previously been enrolled in any institution in Ohio, and they will only receive funds if they re-enroll in Cleveland State University or Cuyahoga Community College.   

The $300,000 is planned to be spent over the next three years on hiring a communications consultant, using advertising and social media and outreach into the community to encourage Cleveland residents to seek the resources available to them to pay off their remaining tuitions and finish their degrees.   

Cleveland City Councilwoman Jasmine Santana, chair of the Workforce, Education, Training & Youth Development committee representing Ward 14, said that the Cleveland City Council has learned how important marketing is.   

“What we’ve learned throughout the years is that marketing and communication is so important so that our residents understand the resources that are available to them,” Santana said. “And you have to be very diverse in the way you communicate things. Not everyone has Facebook. Not everyone has Instagram. There’s just different ways to communicate with communities.”  

McGrath said that the ARPA funds are a once-in-a-generation opportunity that people need to know about.   

“That is the biggest thing, is just how do you make sure people know this opportunity exists?” McGrath said. “It felt like no better place than to use these one-time dollars to make sure that people knew about these opportunities.”   

Santana said that if there had been something such as College Now Greater Cleveland available to her in the past, she herself would have benefitted.   

“I was a mom and I had to drop out of school. So if I had some program, a one-stop shop that, at that time, not now, was gonna help me get back to school, going to help me pay back any debt when I was low income, definitely I would have gone back,” Santana said. “They’re making it easier for people to access the system.”   

Cleveland City Council takes this step while Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is paused until 60 days after litigation over the matter is finished. McGrath said that when Biden’s plan was seen to be in motion, College Now was moving along with it.   

“There were several weeks where there was nothing but calls,” McGrath said. “And the adult learner team was just handling those and trying to sign folks up for that.”