AOA, AOSA make appeal to extend suspension of student loan payments

December 2, 2020
The moratorium on loan repayment has been extended to Jan. 31, 2021. The average optometry student’s loan debt when they graduate is close to $200,000, and the AOA and the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) argue that the relief makes a difference to current optometry students and doctors of optometry continuing to pay student loans. The AOA is working to ensure concerns of doctors of optometry nationwide are front and center.
Student loan relief

With an extension of the student loan forebearance period to Jan. 31, the AOA and the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) continue to urge Congress to support optometry graduate students and the future patients and communities they will serve.

Under the CARES Act, the historic $2.2 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress in April in the early days of the pandemic, payments were suspended, along with interest and collections, on federally backed student loan programs. That relief has been extended through Jan. 31, 2021.

Yet, with the economy still suffering, the AOA and the AOSA are imploring officials to do more.

 “As you consider the next COVID relief package, we respectfully ask that you include a further extension of the timeline on suspension of loan payments, as well as additional student debt relief and loan forgiveness provisions. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted optometry students by resulting in the recent postponement of certain boards examinations, which can delay entry into their roles as providers. Student loan relief is critical for optometry graduate students who are disproportionately bearing the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic through a disrupted education, uncertain job market, and delays in their ability to practice,” say AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D., and AOSA President Alexander Bennett in a Dec. 9 letter to House and Senate leaders.

Crushing student loan debt

In their letter, the two presidents cited the growing loan debt being incurred by optometry students, including;

  • In 2018, 81% of U.S. optometry graduates accumulated debt with a mean average of $178,922.
  • The student loan burden continues to increase, and in this uncertain economic environment, the debt-to-income ratio is growing higher.

Student loan debt has long been a priority issue for the AOA and AOSA because it can impact not only how and where future doctors of optometry practice, but also the growth of future small businesses. There are about 7,200 students enrolled in optometry schools.

Bennett, who attends Western University of Health Sciences and plans to graduate from its optometry school in 2021, says he has heard from students who express concern over their debt, which in some cases, can be “financially crippling.”

“The debt facing optometry students is an ever-increasing concern,” Bennett says. “The average wages of optometrists are not rising at the same rate as the cost of attending optometry school.

“COVID is not over and students need relief,” he adds. “While 0% interest was incredible, I realize it can't last forever. But having some form of student assistance would be crucial to ensuring new grads and working grads aren't falling behind on their repayment schedule.”

AOA’s advocacy and guidance in accessing federal relief funds has already helped the profession access over a billion dollars for doctors of optometry. These federal relief options have helped offset coronavirus-related hardships and support practices and positions for future doctors of optometry.  Continuing to provide relief to AOA members impacted by the pandemic remains a priority.

What can doctors of optometry do?

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