Biden and Dems Must Deliver on Their Promise of College Student Debt Forgiveness

It’s fair to say that Joe Biden is President today because a majority of the 166 million Millennials and Gen Z population voted for him overwhelmingly. With the exception of only five states, the youth and young adult votes went to Biden by large margins. Among Black young adults, the pro-Biden vote was as high as 87%. The Center for Information and Research on Civic and Learning Engagement at Tufts University showed the 18-29 age bracket of voters came out in force at 56% in 2020, compare that to the 28% of young vote in 2018.

And high among Millennials and Gen Z priorities is higher education. According to Pew Research Center, higher education is one of the top issues Gen Z cares about. When compared to older peer groups, members of Gen Z are the least likely to drop out of high school and the most likely to go to college.

Specifically in 2020, the promise of college student loan forgiveness was a huge motivation factor for young voters to go to the polls.

College students with average student loan debts of $30,000, and considerably higher for graduate students, felt with the student debt being so astronomical right now, politicians are now ready and serious about doing something. What did Biden promise? Biden campaigned on forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal student loan debt for borrowers from public colleges and universities earning up to $125,000 per year, and from private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions. That was one promise.

The other promise was the cancellation of $10,000 in student debt per person.

As of right now, Biden and Democrats have yet to deliver on either one of those promises.

Placing college student debt forgiveness aside, but not off the table, is understandable for now considering that Biden’s only major legislative (Congress-approved) accomplishment since getting elected was COVID relief. There are arguably more pressing issues that also have been put on the backburner from healthcare to climate change. In Spring this year, Biden removed student loan forgiveness from his proposed blueprint budget to Congress.

While Biden says he would rather student federal loan debt forgiveness be taken up by Congress, he is serious about making good on his promise. Biden has instructed the Department of Education (DOE) and Justice Department to look into canceling federal student debt by executive order.

So if Republicans plan to block any student forgiveness bill in Congress, Biden is willing to do at least a partial debt cancellation by executive order should the DOE and Justice Department’s findings show such cancellation is within scope of his executive powers.

Legal experts already say this is possible through the Higher Education Act that provides the president authority to “compromise, waive, or release” a borrower’s student loan liability.

Political analysts say if Biden will move on the $10,000 debt forgiveness, more than likely it will come late this year or sometime before next year’s midterm.

Reforming college education
The $10,000 debt forgiveness is a good start should it come to fruition. Other Democrats believe the amount should be higher.

But even if a higher amount is agreed upon, there is still so much more to be done. The cost of a college education is becoming increasingly out of reach for poor and middle-class Americans. This comes as the gap between the haves and have-nots widen, a disparity (inequality) at its highest in over 50 years. And education is key to vertical mobility, opportunity, and closing the inequality gap.

Debt-Free College Act
What’s needed is visionary and bold reform. Hawaii’s Senator Brian Schatz has one ambitious plan. Sen. Schatz reintroduced the “Debt-Free College Act” earlier this year that would enable college students to go debt-free if passed. The bill would set up a state-federal partnership to help students graduate from college without worrying about student loan debt. Schatz’s bill takes the full cost of college into account, besides tuition, to include living expenses, meal plans, and books.“One of the distinctions between our bill and other bills is that we recognize that it’s not just tuition that puts people into debt. Tuition is roughly 40% of the total cost of attending college. It’s also books and software, and the ability to eat and pay your rent along the way,” said Sen. Schatz.

Schatz first introduced this bill in 2018. At the time, he also said, “we ought to cover the full cost of college for people who can’t afford it before we cover tuition for people who can.”The bill would be voluntary between states that sign on with the federal government.  The estimated price in 2018 was $80.1 billion for the first year of federal-state partnership and $95.4 billion to meet the goal of debt-free college for all students.

There hasn’t been much serious talk on Schatz’s ambitious bill at the Hill at the moment. Federal prioritizing and states’ anemic treasury could be reasons why. But the idea of debt-free college that includes all aspects of college debt besides tuition is a unique policy idea that could be included in the overall future discussion of making college education more accessible to a wider population of Americans.

President Biden must live up to his promise and provide at the very least some federal student loan debt forgiveness. Not doing so, would be a major political mistake not just for him, but the Democratic party.  Millions of Americans (students and parents) and our Filipino community are watching closely how this issue plays out.

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