More than 100 students at Manhattan Area Technical College are getting their debts paid off.

MATC administrators announced Friday that the college relieved 122 students of their debt totaling more than $170,000. In a statement, MATC vice president of operations Carmela Jacobs said the U.S. Department of Education released guidance that allowed higher education institutions to use their most recent round of federal stimulus money “for a variety of student needs, including canceling student debt.”

“MATC, among other institutions, decided to support students during the pandemic by discharging unpaid institutional balances so students can resume their studies — whether here at MATC or at another institution,” Jacobs said.

The college cleared the debt for any student who attended MATC from March 2020 through the present. Jacobs said MATC received $1.6 million from the federal government for combating COVID-19.

That money is meant for items like sanitization services, masks, temperature screenings and distance-learning equipment. MATC president and CEO Jim Genandt said all stimulus funds “come with lots of strings attached” to their usage, but one option many higher learning institutions have chosen, and that is approved by federal regulators, is to relieve students of their debt.

“When a student has a debt like that it puts a hold on their transcript,” Genandt said. “This can hurt them if they are trying to get financial aid to go back to school, so relieving this debt gives them a second chance.”

K-State spokeswoman Michelle Geering said the university is still considering what it plans to do with its federal money, and it hasn’t canceled any student debt.

MATC administrators also received $1.08 million for student grants. This federal money is used to help students with higher costs of living outside of their college experience. For example, the grants can help with broadband internet expenses or upgraded equipment to help students with remote learning, Genandt said.

“We’re hoping some of those students will come back to us, or go on to some post-secondary education,” Genandt said. “Their student debt with us usually isn’t at the top of their mind because they’re taking care of life situations.”

Genandt said especially with a two-year college, he sees a lot of students who are figuring out what they want to do in life, and they “don’t need this barrier” in the way of their learning. “We figured, let’s do the right thing, and help them out,” he said.

Genandt said applications for the tech college’s programs this fall semester are strong, with about 70-75% capacity so far. He said he is “cautiously optimistic” about fall enrollment figures.

“We’re still processing a lot of applications, and the interest among high schoolers for our programs is still strong,” Genandt said. “Until the 20th day of the semester when we do our official count for enrollment. … That’s the number that matters.”

Since the pandemic began, Genandt said he continues “looking for the silver lining in the thunderstorm.”

“I want to extend a big ‘thank you’ to our students, faculty and staff over the past 18 months,” Genandt said. “Our faculty and staff responded (to the pandemic) by adapting and improvising to keep students learning, and our students responded by learning to do more things remotely.”

Genandt said the pandemic has led to more interest in the technical college’s programs and opportunities for hands-on learning.

“It’s kind of cool to watch tech ed come around and be treated with a little more respect,” Genandt said. “More and more people are figuring out that, if they go through us, they’ll get a step up on a pretty good entry-level job with little to no student debt.”