ILLINOIS (WAND) - The Department of Education is working to make it easier for certain public workers to pay off their student loans.

Students like Christina Wasserstrom and Jessica Sheler, who are juniors at Millikin University, are studying to be seniors. When they graduate, both hope to be saving lives in a local hospital. But around the same time, they’ll have to start paying off loans needed to get their degree.

"I support myself through college and money is a huge aspect," Sheler said. "I have a ton of loans, so knowing if you pay that money potentially you'll get it back by serving the people, just doing what you love."

Students like Jessica could now be eligible for a student loan forgiveness program. To be eligible, they must work for 10 years in a public service job and make monthly payments during that time.

"I don't want to go somewhere and pay a ton of money to not get what I want out of it. I want to be a nurse and I chose a good school with the money factor,” Wasserstrom said. 

The student loan forgiveness program was first started in 2007. But until last week, it was so limited that few graduates could take advantage of it.

"With all of those qualifiers, only about maybe 2% of the applicants who had completed the 120 months of payments were getting the loan forgiveness,” Millikin’s Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Stacey Hubbard explained.

Now, Hubbard said an estimated 550,000 borrowers nationwide could be eligible to have loans paid off. Hubbard said that’s a huge incentive for students to consider a career in public service.

"If a student borrows the bare minimum that they're allowed to borrow in the federal programs each year, they end up borrowing about $27,000 at the end of the four years, or when they graduate,” Hubbard said.

Student ledgers could be wiped clean for their years of service.

"Our whole career is based on helping people and helping our community, so I think a great thing would be to give back,” Wasserstrom added.

Right now, the Department of Education policy change is in effect until next October. The department plans to make the rule permanent before the temporary order expires.

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