By Natalia Abrams and Sabrina Cereceres

Would you play a trivia game show to have your student loans erased? Paid Off, the only game show helping borrowers cut down their student debt, is making waves for doing what lawmakers have failed to do for years.

The show, hosted by Michael Torpey (Orange is the New Black), has given a dozen borrowers the chance to lower their debt in the first three episodes alone.

More importantly, the show’s host takes time to define the crisis-level issue that is student loan debt. Torpey calls on contestants and audience members (including those sitting at home) to create change. Contacting members of Congress and taking other direct actions are themes throughout each episode. This isn’t your typical game show.

One contestant, Spanish teacher Ryan, successfully completed the final round of trivia questions. In return, the television program paid back every penny of his $42,017 student debt.

Ryan wasn’t alone. This particular episode focused on teachers, who are hurt by rising college costs and increasing debt. The show included Dana, a sixth-grade teacher; Ryan, a Spanish teacher; and Tiara, a substitute teacher. It is estimated that two out of every three teachers has to borrow to pay for their education.

The episode highlighted the irony that teachers – the people who prepare us for college in the first place – are struggling to afford their own education expenses. In one scene, Torpey makes the point that while we learn skills in school, our teachers are probably struggling with student debt.

The pay gap between teachers and other professionals doesn’t help the situation. On average, the starting salary for America’s public school teachers is $38,617. That is well below the overall average for a bachelor’s degree recipient. In fact, the pay gap between teachers and other professionals who have similar levels of education is about 17%.

In addition to a lower starting salary, teachers are encouraged to advance their careers by going back to school. That means more education costs and more student loan debt.

There is an economic incentive for teachers to pursue higher levels of education. The achievement of a master’s degree can increase salary for a teacher by thousands of dollars. Some schools even require a graduate degree for career advancement. Yet, the enormous expense to attend a graduate program can make these benefits useless.

That is why teachers depend on federal student loan programs to manage their debt. Without options such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness, hundreds of thousands of teachers couldn’t afford to follow their dreams.

Many would be priced out of the classroom by astronomical college costs, while countless more wouldn’t pursue education careers at all.

Of course, a game show won’t solve the student debt crisis. However, Paid Off is using its platform to make a statement about this critical issue, spread awareness of vital federal programs, and possibly change the lives of borrowers from across the country. For those reasons, this program stands apart from any other currently on television today.

Paid Off is commendable for its respect towards students and student loan borrowers. Torpey hosts the show with a certain degree of compassion that quells concerns some viewers might have. While student debt is a sensitive issue for millions of Americans across the country, the game show is a good-natured effort to draw attention to a problem that has had little consideration in the past.

The questions asked on the show are easy, just like paying off your student loans should be. The show is silly, but not embarrassing. Ultimately, contestants are having fun and paying off their student loans.

We want to hear from you: What would you do if your student loan debt was #PaidOff?

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