The Biden White House’s recent announcement on forgiving a maximum of 20,000 dollars in college debt for some borrowers, and 10,000 dollars for others has garnered both praise and criticism from people on both sides of the political spectrum. Student loan forgiveness was one of President Biden’s campaigns promises and it appeared that he was planning on doing it (despite many legal and political scholars stating that he was always more than able to do so). While I think this action is a good thing, I think there are a multitude of factors to consider centered around this hot button issue.
Firstly, I take issue with the actual dollar amount. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average student loan borrower has approximately 28,000 dollars in student loan debt. That’s for the whole of student loan borrowers. The picture gets grimmer when you break down the numbers by income level. In the lowest 25th percentile, student loan borrowers have an average of 30,000 dollars in student loan debt. Per the Biden administration’s plan, this would leave these borrowers still holding the bag for 10,000 and that’s if you’ve received a Pell Grant. Other borrowers are still left with 20,000 dollars. All the while these loan balances are still accruing interest that is strangling the working class in the United States.
It is my view that the Biden administration should wipe away all student debt. You might say that’s impossible; that it would cause a funding crisis in the public university system, but there’s one piece of information you’re forgetting: the Biden administration has paused student loan repayment requirements since taking office and in fact, they were paused during the waning months of the Trump administration. That’s more than two years of no required student loan payments and as far as I can tell, public universities aren’t going under left and right. Clearly, it wouldn’t cause a disaster if public universities in this country operated like they do in many other developed nations around the world. Sweden and Finland for example subsidize public university education just as they do public secondary and elementary level education. Their tax dollars go to this effort because a more educated public leads to a more robust and healthy society.
This way of tackling student debt by eliminating the system that creates student debt is the healthiest option. However, capitalism isn’t concerned with what is healthy for a society. Its only motive is profit and inherently the idea that education should be freely given is at odds with this. On that note, one criticism that has popped up numerously has been the idea that medical debt should be forgiven instead of student debt. Now, I want to say I agree with the idea that medical debt should be forgiven. In fact, I don’t think there should be medical debt in the first place either. Any system that profits on the suffering of others such as the current way healthcare is operated in the United States is inherently cruel and unjust, and by extension, any country that allows it is the same. I would posit that you can do both things. The idea of forgiving student debt and medical debt are not mutually exclusive.
We need to move towards a society that is far more just and centered around humanity over profit if we are to survive as a species. The 21st century is not going to get easier and if we continue such an individualist path, including the existence of student debt, humanity just might be no more.