The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has launched a “reverse scholarship” pilot program that will pay off up to $30,000 in student debt for borrowers in the Foundation’s three neighborhoods of focus: South Cobb (Fair Oaks); South Fulton (College Park and East Point); and Thomasville.

The initiative, launched less than two months before federal student loan payments — which were paused under a federal moratorium during COVID — are set to resume, aims to mitigate the impact of student loan debt in marginalized communities. This debt contributes to the racial wealth gap and has long-term implications for financial, physical and mental health, according to a press release from the Foundation.

“People are going to college for really specific reasons, and generally, it’s for a better life and to better their family and their future. They’re signing up for student debt because that’s the only way they can pay for school,” Lauren Thomas Priest, program officer for the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, said in the release. “We need to make sure we’re not signing future students up for huge debt loads but we also need to address those of us who carry huge student debt loads now, because we’re starting to see families with two or even three generations that hold student debt, and what that sets them up for is the opposite of generational wealth.”

Americans collectively owe an estimated $1.75 trillion in student loans. Georgians owe an average of $40,268.87 in student loans — higher than the national average.

Statewide, Georgians owe $66 billion in student loans. College Park, one of the Foundation’s three neighborhoods in focus in metro Atlanta, ranks 16th in the nation for student debt burden, with graduates there owing nearly $29,000 in student debt, compared to the median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders — $41,830.

The application is open now and closes Sept. 15. Students or parents who want to apply should first complete a profile and then access the application here.

Donors who are interested in supporting the initiative should contact the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta Philanthropy team.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Rough Draft Atlanta.