Will Biden cancel student loan debt? As college costs spiral, here’s what he’s considering

Sunday, April 4, 2021

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration entered the White House with an eye toward relieving the strain of student loan debt, particularly amid the added financial burden of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Day One in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order extending a pause student federal loan payments enacted by the previous administration as part of COVID-19 relief. Liberal activists and lawmakers urged the president to go further and cancel student loan debt, but he has said firmly that he does not believe he has the authority to do so by executive order.

That changed Thursday, when White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Biden asked his education secretary to explore the president’s authority to cancel student loan debt, a sign he is open to moving left on the issue.

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Critics of student loan debt forgiveness, including conservatives and some liberals, argue that it would unfairly benefit higher-income earners with college educations and that individuals who took out loans have a responsibility to pay them back, regardless of circumstance.

Biden’s push for student loan changes

Though Biden has been hesitant to bypass Congress on canceling student loan debt, he has said since the days of his campaign that the government needs to help those with “debilitating” student debt.

“I understand the impact of debt,” he said at a CNN town hall in February.

Biden said student loans should have 0% interest – a move he enacted alongside the repayment freeze through September. He expanded student loan forgiveness for public-sector workers and canceled debt for students defrauded by for-profit schools.

He’s hesitant to cancel loan debt for those who went to top-tier schools. The federal government should not forgive debt for students who went to elite schools such as "Harvard and Yale and Penn," Biden said.

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Thursday, Klain said Biden asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to craft a memo on the president’s executive authority to cancel student loan debt.

“He’ll look at that legal authority, he’ll look at the policy issues around that and he’ll make a decision,” Klain said in an interview with Politico Playbook.

Enacting student loan forgiveness through Congress might be difficult in an evenly split Senate.

College costs are on a steep rise

College costs have steadily risen in recent decades, making the price tag of a higher education all but unaffordable without the assistance of student loans for many.

Students have been told that prosperous lives depend on a higher education. First-year students responding to a UCLA nationwide survey placed a higher importance on making more money and obtaining a better job as reasons for going to college in 2019 than students in the past 45 years. But the high cost of college has increased the debt that graduates have to climb out of as they start their careers.

U.S. News and World Report’s analysis of its ranked national universities shows that in the past 20 years, average tuition at private colleges rose by 144%; at public universities for out-of-state students by 165%; and at public universities for in-state students by 212%.

Data collected by the College Board shows that, after adjusting for inflation, over the past two decades, average tuition and fees at public four-year institutions have increased by more than $5,000 and at private colleges and universities by more than $13,000 annually.

This school year, the College Board found that the average first-time, full-time student at a public, four-year college has to pay $14,850 in tuition, fees and boarding after grant aid. The average student at a private institution must cover $29,110 after grant aid. This does not include additional costs such as books, supplies and transportation.

Americans hold about $1.7 trillion in student loan debt, according to Federal Reserve data. The average 2019 graduate of private or public colleges holds an average of $28,950 in debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

“The more college costs soar, the more degrees become a measure [of] privilege than competence. Our country would be better off if we made public colleges tuition-free & cancelled student loan debt,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted.

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Story by: Jeanine Santucci