Photo of science teacher Nina Hike standing next to her classroom door.

When Westinghouse College Prep science teacher Nina Hike heard about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, she couldn’t believe it. She thought it must be a scam. She had $172,000 in student loans. No way anyone would pay that off for her, she thought.

But then a good friend pushed her to apply. And she saw CTU members posting on the Members Only Facebook page about getting their student loans forgiven. 

So she gave it a shot and sent in her application.

About six months later, Hike was sitting in her car one afternoon reading her mail, when she saw a letter from the U.S. Department of Education. She assumed it was a notice denying her application. 

Instead it included phrases like, “Congratulations!” and “You have met our requirements,” and “Thank you for your public service.”

She couldn’t believe it.

“You do your job, you love it, and you put years into it, but you still have this massive debt lingering over you, and you’re always thinking, ‘How long is it going to take to pay this off?’” she said. “This was a great summer surprise, and the ‘thank you’ really meant something to me.”

Hike accumulated the debts earning her bachelor’s degree in biology, with a minor in chemistry, from the University of Illinois-Chicago and her master’s degree in education from DePaul University. Now she is a 27-year veteran CPS teacher. 

“I just turned 50, so this is going to make my financial future much more secure,” she said. “CTU members, please don’t delay. Get the forms and apply.” 

The Public Loan Forgiveness Program allows people who have been working in public service jobs, like teachers, to have their student loans forgiven after 10 years of payments. Temporary rules established during the pandemic eased some of those requirements, but you must apply before the end of the year to benefit from them. 

Americans owe a staggering $1.78 trillion in student loan debt, more than is owed on any other debt, except mortgages. And massive student loan debt contributes to the stark racial and gender wealth gaps in our country, with Black women impacted most.

Black women college graduates carry the highest student loan debt, owing an average of $37,558, compared to $22,000 for women overall and $18,880 owed by men. Once in the workplace, Black women college graduates earn less than their white peers and 57 percent report having financial difficulties while trying to pay off student debt.

That’s why the PSLF program is so important and now is the time to take advantage of it. CTU members can learn more about the program and how to apply from the AFT. The AFT also is hosting two student loan debt clinics this summer — the next one is on July 11. Register today and get your application in before Dec. 31.   

Editor’s note: The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is not impacted by the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling upending President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief.