EVERETT, Wash — When students at Everett Community College recently checked their emails, many saw an offer that truly seemed too good to be true.
"At first, I thought it wasn't real. I thought it was a scam," said Student Body President Baydaa Alshatee.
College officials sent an email to 3,442 students telling them their college debt accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic had been paid -- a total of $1.2 million.
Alshatee believes that will be a game-changer for many.
"Being able to walk away from debt like that for students will have a huge impact," she said. "It could be life-changing. They can focus on other things like finding a job or having a stable family."
The money is a one-time windfall from federal COVID-19 relief funds.
Student debt more than doubled at Everett Community College during the pandemic, forcing some to drop out or delay their education.
About five times the typical number of students accrued debt during the pandemic -- up to $5,000 each.
"Students can't be successful if they have those types of balances on their records," said EvCC President Dr. Daria Willis.
According to Willis, half of the students who received the money are students of color.
"We know those students have many more barriers and much less access to opportunities," said Willis. "We want to make sure that if we pay that off, they can be just as successful as their counterparts."
There are 5.5 million community college students in America who graduate owing an average of just over $11,000.
The Biden administration wants to make tuition free for all of them, but the plan faces Republican opposition.
Willis believes the math adds up.
"The data shows that students who attend a community college most likely will stay in their regions and give back to the local economy. Students who go to community college are that much more successful when they transfer to a four-year institution. This is what it takes to get people from poverty to a livable wage where they can take care of their families."
Alshatee is hopeful the Biden plan will prevail and the only debt her classmates will owe is one of gratitude.
"It takes this burden off your shoulders and it helps you look for more things to advance yourself," she said.