Robert Wu

Volume 72, Issue 3, 959-998

In the first three years of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), over 227,000 borrowers applied for relief. The U.S. Department of Education granted relief to less than 3800 borrowers, denying forgiveness to roughly 98% of the program’s applicants. This astronomically high rejection rate raises questions of responsibility for the program’s initial failure. Many have blamed the Trump Administration for using its political influence to manufacture an unforgiving result. However, a purely political explanation for the program’s failure provides an incomplete illustration of the reasons underlying PSLF’s demise.

This Note examines the numerous pitfalls that resulted in PSLF’s unforgiving forgiveness rate. Specifically, it reviews the program’s development, from its creation in the halls of Congress, to various refinements developed under the Obama Administration, and the Trump Administration’s management of the program. Through this analysis, this Note raises two core issues underlying PSLF. First, the program contains a statutory and regulatory framework that appears oblivious to the realities of federal student loan repayment. Combining this disastrous framework with the second issue, the Trump Administration’s apathetic execution of the program, created a scenario that doomed borrowers seeking forgiveness.

Ultimately, this Note recommends that Congress and the Department of Education develop comprehensive, multi-pronged reforms to address the program’s numerous problems. PSLF is more than just a borrower-friendly program; it provides vital recruitment incentives for public service employers who serve as the backbone of the nation’s communities. These reforms, if implemented, would create a robust and accommodating program that would successfully deliver loan forgiveness to our nation’s dedicated public servants.