Student loan debt in the US currently totals over $1.75 trillion. (Photo Credit: Isabel Bequer/AchonaOnline/Canva)
Student loan debt in the US currently totals over $1.75 trillion.

Photo Credit: Isabel Bequer/AchonaOnline/Canva

America needs student debt forgiveness (EDITORIAL)

January 5, 2023

Student loan payments were meant to restart this Sunday, January 1, 2023, after a series of pandemic-based moratoriums. Yet, on November 22, 2022, the Biden administration announced another extension on required payments, this one without a definite end date. Rather, payments will resume 30 days after deliberation is reached on an influential Supreme Court case that will determine the future of student loan forgiveness in the United States.

On August 24, the Biden administration announced its student loan forgiveness plan. The plan required borrowers to fall under an income cap to qualify for debt forgiveness, earning less than $125,000 per year for individuals, or less than $250,000 for multi-person households. Borrowers would then qualify for $10,000 in loan forgiveness. Those who received Pell Grants in college would receive an additional $10,000, for a potential total of $20,000 in forgiveness.

“I don’t know anyone who’s planning to take out loans, especially if they can help it. I think everyone knows it’s a bad idea,” said Riley Griess (’23).

However, the plan faced much opposition from conservative groups, including multiple groups that brought forward court cases to block the plan, claiming it to be unconstitutional. Two federal judges blocked the implementation of the plan already. Additionally, a lawsuit was brought forth by Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Carolina. This was heard by the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which also prevented the plan from moving forward, and is the case being heard by the Supreme Court.

Despite this backlash, It is imperative that this forgiveness plan pass through the Supreme Court, as it is a key part of keeping higher education accessible in the United States. Whilst student loans are an essential part of helping many students gain access to college, they also place an intense burden on borrowers that can affect their economic status and abilities for the rest of their lives. This is a disproportionate effect that reflects a larger issue within the education system as a whole. Student debt forgiveness is one step toward rectifying these issues and increasing accessibility in education. 

Many have argued that the plan is too costly, and would come at the expense of taxpayers. However, this plan has the potential to help many Americans financially, as loans are a significant economic barrier for many. By eliminating this barrier, more Americans could have higher quality of living and access to things like homeownership, benefiting the economy as a whole.

The cost of college in the US has risen more and more in recent decades, increasing in price more than almost any other good or service, with the exception of hospital care. This has prompted students to take out larger and larger loans, as their families attempt to keep up with these rising prices. This is especially true for private universities, which tend to have even higher tuition than public colleges. Colleges in the US also have many hidden additional expenses that make affording them even more difficult. While many colleges have strong financial aid programs, many students still cannot afford college with the aid they receive, prompting them to take out loans, often expecting the benefit of a college degree will be enough to earn a high enough paying job that will allow them to pay off their debt in the future. Many of these students also do not realize the true burden that loans place on them, making the choice to take out loans a rather uninformed decision.

However, many do not end up making enough to pay off their loans, forcing them into intense debt for the rest of their lives. This unpaid debt then affects their credit score and can prevent borrowers from doing things like taking out homeowners’ loans. This leads to a lack of economic mobility and growth, leaving borrowers unable to truly reap the benefits they thought a college degree would provide. It also generally impacts their quality of life, as they are forced to choose between making student loan payments and other necessary expenses.

This issue is especially prevalent for people of color in the US. There is a racial disparity associated with student loan default rates. Defaulting occurs when borrowers miss payments for a specified period of time, often 270 days, and can lead to legal repercussions. In 2020, the default rate was nearly twice as high in majority-Black zip codes than majority-white ones, 17.7% compared to 9%. This is one example of how student debt hits already marginalized groups harder in the US.

One large argument against student loan forgiveness is that the majority of those with loans are in higher income brackets, and thus should be able to pay off their loans themselves. However, there are many borrowers in lower income brackets, who have more potential to remain there if the burden of their loans are not even somewhat alleviated. 

Additionally, by not forgiving these loans, not only would the federal government continue to harm these people’s lives and financial futures, it would also reinforce the idea that higher education is closed off to those that cannot afford it. The pandemic had a clear effect on higher education — at the beginning of 2022, 1 million fewer students were enrolled in college than in 2019, before the pandemic began. Many people’s reasons for not pursuing college are largely financial, with one study finding that 38% of students chose not to enroll due to the cost of college and the fear of amassing debt. By choosing not to forgive debt and doing little to further reform the system and lower the cost of college, the federal government is only reinforcing these fears.

“The cost of college definitely factored into my decision process as I chose where to apply. It also made some schools I really loved seem really unrealistic because they’re just so expensive,” said Delaney Ross (’23).

While student loan forgiveness is not the final solution to the issue of student debt, it is a necessary step in the right direction. The Supreme Court should rule in favor of letting the case pass. However, the government should also focus on building reform that can lower the cost of college as a whole, making it more accessible to students from all income levels. Education is a key component of progress for the country as a whole, and thus should be affordable for all.

“College is really expensive. I think that definitely makes it hard for a lot of people to pursue it, which is really unfair,” said Griess.

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