Ashley Strange visits universities and community colleges every week trying to recruit officer candidates for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Orlando, Fla.
When she finishes a presentation, the line of questioning is very predictable.
“The first thing they want to know is whether they need a college degree to become a police officer,” said Strange, a sergeant with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “Then somewhere along the way, the discussion gets around to whether there is any way to help pay for their college education.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is a lightly-publicized, but valuable tool for college graduates trying to figure out ways to repay student loan debt. It was created in 2007 specifically to encourage college students to pursue careers at government agencies or in non-profit organizations with 501 (c)(3) status in exchange for having part of their student loans forgiven.
“But almost nobody knows about it,” Strange said. “It’s really amazing how many places I go and how few people have even heard of it. I mention it during my presentation and you can see people in the audience nodding their heads, but it’s because it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of it.”
Public Service Loan Forgiveness for police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses, social workers and jobs with most community service organizations are among the many classifications that qualify for the PSLF program. Generally speaking, any job at a city, county, state or federal government agency qualifies, regardless of the job position.
How Law Enforcement Qualifies for Public Service Loan Forgiveness
However, there are some conditions that have to be met to receive any loan forgiveness.
First and foremost, you must make 120 on-time payments on your student loan. The second major requirement is that you must be working full-time at a qualified agency when making each of those payments.
It only applies to students with Direct Federal Loans or Direct Consolidated Loans. Private loans do not qualify for the PSLF program.
The PSLF program is a lifeline for police officers, many of whom may not pursue or finish their college degree until after they have started working. The debate over whether police officers actually need a college degree to do their job has been going on forever, but the Bureau of Labor statistics indicate more cops are taking that route, especially those expecting promotions.
Though only a high school diploma is needed in the majority of police departments, the Bureau of Labor says 30 percent of current patrol officers and 41 percent of detectives and supervisors have a Bachelor’s Degree.
The percentage of new officers with college degrees in the Orange County Sheriff’s office is even higher. Over the last five years, 176 of the 317 (56 percent) deputies hired have Bachelor’s or Master’s Degrees.
Strange, who received her B.A. and Master’s Degree from the University of Central Florida, thinks schools and government agencies could do a better job making students and employees aware of the PSLF benefits. She said she seldom sees literature or flyers about it on her campus or in office visits, but she promotes it relentlessly, especially among fellow police officers.
“Student loans are probably the most common debt among the officers in our department,” Strange said. “We have people who didn’t finish their degrees and are worried about taking out more loans to finish, but there are ways to pay for it and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is definitely one I tell everyone about.”
NA, ND. If you work full-time in a public service job, you may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Retrieved from https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/charts/public-service
NA, ND. Educational attainment for workers 25 years and older by detailed occupation. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_111.htm