10 Reasons Why Joe Biden Needs to Cancel Student Debt Yesterday

Joe Biden’s proposal for student debt relief–$10,000 in debt cancellation for public loan borrowers who attended public universities–is embarrassing. It makes him look out-of-touch with the real needs of people, and it is such poor policy that it suggests he’s not surrounding himself with the best brains government should be employing. It’s like when your grandma sends you a $5 bill for your birthday and tells you to take yourself out for dinner. It’s the thought that counts, but this gift isn’t very thoughtful.

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Data from PRNewswire. For each of the statistics above, remember: they impact women and people of color most of all.

Here are 10 reasons Biden needs a much bolder and much faster plan:

  1. Most college students don’t graduate in four years. The six-year graduation rate isn’t all that much better, with 61.2% of public school students, 67.2% of private school students, and 25.4% of for-profit school students earning a degree within six years of beginning they start. Lots of people have school debt but no degrees. This includes people who attended private, public, and for-profit schools.
  2. Almost 11% of borrowers default on their loan within the first year of repayment and 25% default within the first 5 years. 10-20% of loans are currently in default. The default rate tells us what borrowers themselves are saying: they can’t afford payments. We can do something about it, or we can keep watching the devastation of default unfurl.
  3. More than 40% of defaulting borrowers owe $20-40,000, which is 2-4x what Biden is willing to cancel. This is like the difference between drowning in 10 feet of water or 40 feet of water. Either way, you’re drowning. We need to bring people to shore, not drown them in half the water.
  4. Women have more student loan debt. Families save less for the education of their daughters than for their sons and families borrow less for their daughters’ education than their sons. This means that women borrow more–even as they graduate to a pay gap, even in the same fields, even with the same qualifications. Canceling student loan debt is an issue of justice for women. The pandemic has set a generation of women–many of whom lived through two recessions already–back during their prime earning years. Give them debt relief now as compensation for the care they are providing for children, which is vital to the economic reopening our capitalist system insists upon.
  5. Women of color have more student loan debt than anyone else–20% more than white men. Student debt discharge is an issue of racial justice.
  6. The pandemic has created a baby bust, exacerbating a trend of late child-bearing, single children, and smaller family size overall. Debt cancellation would remove one barrier to marriage and childrearing for those who desire these things. It’s one thing for people to decide not to have children; it’s another for their student loan debt to be the deciding factor in that choice. A commitment to reproductive freedom demands that it be removed.
  7.  Scholarships can lower the cost of attending private schools to be equivalent to or lower than the cost of public schools–an advantage to private schools that should be addressed by making public schools free, not refusing to forgive the debt of those who attended private schools.
  8. Besides tuition, the cost savings of living at home with family rather than in a dorm or apartment can close the gap between the overall costs. Why should someone who lives near a private school pay for on-campus housing to attend a state university that is farther away? And why should a student who made this wise financial choice be left behind now?
  9. Plenty of rich students attend public ones. Has Joe Biden not set foot on public university campus? Toured a Greek house? Wandered through the student parking lot? While not all or even most students are wealthy, to use “public v. private” as the distinction for determining whose debts are canceled is rooted in the fallacy of composition–just because some students who attend public universities are not wealthy doesn’t mean that none of them are.
  10. Maybe even worse, Biden is fond of arguing that the rest of us shouldn’t be subsidizing tuition at Harvard. Again, this misunderstands the situation. Wealthy kids who get into Ivy League schools pay tuition; they’re not typically financing college with debt but paying for it with trust funds, family donations, and savings. Just 4% of Harvard students graduate with debt. Given that around 2000 students are admitted each year, that’s 80 Harvard graduates per year who would benefit from universal debt cancellation. And you know what? If 80 poor kids are smart enough to get into Harvard, I want my tax dollars to help them enter post-graduation life debt-free.

Now, in the end, all of these problems are connected to larger social ills, including sexism, racism, declining state investment in public education (investment that is simply payment from the businesses that rely on educated employees in the form of taxes to support higher education), and the myth of meritocracy, which allows low-achieving students from wealthy families to attend college at a higher rate than smart kids from poor families.  And they are related to the failure of higher education in general to control costs and leverage its power to influence state legislators and boards of regent to fund and support higher education. All of these are also issues that the president should be concerned about.

But, until he can address those things, Biden should cancel debt now.

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