Newswise — She was the first Japanese national to receive a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Now 20 years into her career as a female educator of color and as associate dean in the University of Redlands School of Education, Dr. Hideko Sera is giving back, serving on an advocacy board of the APA doing grassroots work to preserve Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

During her three-year term on the APA Board of Education Affairs, where all aspects of psychology education is discussed among 13 nationally chosen experts, Sera was chosen for the Federal Education Advocacy Summit in 2019 — a group of 30 psychologists from various states tasked with preparing, then lobbying on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to preserve the PSLF, which is a key legislative priority of the APA.

The PSLF Program, enacted in 2007, provides loan forgiveness to students after 10 years of qualified public service and federal loan repayment — ensuring the pursuit of careers that put service to the public ahead of other factors. The first cohort of individuals was eligible to apply for forgiveness in October 2017, but a majority of applications have been denied. In December 2017, legislation was introduced to amend the Higher Education Act. If passed, the bill would eliminate the PSLF Program completely.

“We care about the people who serve for our communities not only those who are psychologists or mental health professionals but also teachers, police officers, and others who work in public service sectors, and we carried their personal stories to our representatives,” Sera said of the trip to the Hill, where she and her colleagues met with representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Congresswoman Barbara Lee, CA-13; Congressman Pete Aguilar, CA-31; Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, CA-11 and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

“We asked them to look at how broken the system is,” Sera said. “More than 90 percent of applications for PSLF are denied now because of mistakes or lack of review.”

If PSLF is eliminated, Sera said the consequences will be far-reaching throughout higher education and other areas of public service.

“This becomes an educational justice issue, when education becomes possible only for those who can afford it and when those who are committed to working for the public won’t receive any incentives for their hard work. ”