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Virginia Journal of Education

Paying Dearly


NEA’s ‘Degrees Not Debt’ campaign aims to help educators struggling with college debt.


Next May, when thousands of freshly-minted college graduates go looking for jobs, they’ll be lugging an average of $35,000 in college debt into the workplace along with them. Now, that might not be such a big deal if you’re walking out of higher education with a medical or business degree, for example, but for those headed into the world of K-12 teaching, student debt can be an albatross for most of their careers.

In these pages earlier this year, one young Loudoun County teacher described her struggles to get ahead financially and to own her own home while trying to make the monthly payments on her student debt, despite earning the teaching salary that comes with earning a master’s degree. She’s been unable to buy a home and is working multiple jobs just to hang on.

She’s far from alone: Right now, according to the National Education Association, there are 42 million people in the U.S. paying off $1.3 trillion in college loans, which is more than our nation’s credit card debt.

That’s way out of hand. It’s also why NEA has created Degrees Not Debt, an ongoing campaign aimed at reducing the massive debt loads of many of our educators and making the earning of a college degree more affordable for all. Why should someone doing the critical work of public education have to struggle financially for years, even decades? Degrees Not Debt is focused on four major goals:

• Increasing sources of student aid for students who need it, especially Pell Grants, which once covered 80 percent of a four-year public college education and today don’t cover even 40 percent of those costs.

• Making student loans more affordable. (NEA has encouraged the federal government to lower interest rates and further limit the percentage of their income that borrowers can spend on loan repayment.)

• Encouraging and rewarding young people who choose to enter careers devoted to public service, such as teaching, through expanded loan-forgiveness programs.

• Increasing institutional aid.

You can find information and assistance on NEA’s Degrees Not Debt webpage, including whether you might be eligible for a different, more affordable loan repayment arrangement than you currently have, such as an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan. There’s also information about Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that promotes full-time work in the public sector.

In addition, you can take the Degrees Not Debt Pledge and add your voice to the growing chorus of educators who are saying “Enough is enough!” You’ll learn how you can join with others to influence policy in this area that means so much to so many educators, and you can download the “Five Steps to Kick Student Debt” brochure to become an active participant in the campaign.

To get started at the DND webpage, go to


We Can Help

VEA’s Office of Teaching and Learning has added a Degrees Not Debt workshop to its training lineup, offering members a chance to learn how to navigate the complicated world of student loans and debt. You’ll learn how to understand loan repayment and loan forgiveness programs, what debt terms and concepts mean, and the pros and cons of loan consolidation and refinancing.

For information or to schedule a workshop in your area, contact VEA’s Office of Teaching and Learning at 800-552-9554 or


Take action to boost K-12 funding and support better pay.


Stay in touch with VEA and your fellow members.

Check out VEA and NEA Member Benefits savings programs.

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