On Jan. 14, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled a plan to eliminate millions of dollars of student loan debt on the first day of her presidency, without needing congressional approval, CNBC reported.
Three other Democratic presidential candidates — Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana — support free or debt-free tuition at a four-year public university for middle- and low-income families, the Washington Post reported.
The total student loan debt in the United States is currently $1.6 trillion, with the vast majority of that from government loans, at $1.5 trillion, Vox reported earlier this month.
“I just can’t imagine making that payment,” said Tommy Nyfenger, a freshman undeclared major. “My boss at my old job is 40 years old, and she still pays $200 a month or something like that for her college.”
Student loan debt is a huge burden on graduates in this country, and Warren’s proposal has the potential to affect the lives of so many adults crippled by debt. Even if it doesn’t work as Warren anticipates, publicly endorsing a plan like this will open the conversation around the student debt crisis, leading us closer to a solution.
The student debt crisis is especially relevant for students from Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has the second highest average student loan debt, with an alarming 67 percent of Pennsylvania students taking out loans to finance their education, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier this month. The average debt per student in Pennsylvania is approximately $36,193.
At Temple, the average student loan debt is $38,108, even higher than the state average, according to Penn Live. This is fairly in line with other state schools, like the University of Pittsburgh, which has an average student loan debt of $38,322, and the Pennsylvania State University Lehigh Campus, where the average student loan debt is $38,922, according to that same Penn Live survey.
“We’ve just accepted that, over the course of our lives, we’re gonna be paying this off forever,” said Dominique Davis, a junior biology major who expects to have $70-80,000 in student loan debt by the time she finishes graduate school.
This policy could also work against the uneven distribution of economic burden across socioeconomic groups, as the student debt crisis disproportionately impacts African American borrowers as opposed to other borrowers, CNBC reported.
Twenty years after finishing school, white college graduates have an average of $1,000 of student loan debt remaining — for Black students, that number is $18,500, according to a September 2019 study by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.
“When you take debt out of the equation, you level the playing field,” said Joseph Paris, an assistant professor of higher education.
While Warren asserts her plan is possible under provisions made in the Higher Education Act of 1965, it would also imply she could spend around $1.4 trillion to absolve mass amounts of student debt without congressional approval, the Chronicle reported.
“One of my first and chief concerns is whether the federal government has the infrastructure in place to forgive the loans of thousands of people across the nation,” Paris said. “Part of that is establishing and verifying clear eligibility criteria.”
Nevertheless, wiping out student loans would have an overall positive benefit on the country: it could increase gross domestic product and reduce unemployment, while only having a minimal effect on the federal budget deficit, inflation and interest rates, according to a February 2018 study by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.
Once loans are forgiven, people are also less likely to file for bankruptcy or default on medical bills, National Public Radio reported in July 2019.
The idea of mass forgiveness of student loans sounds like a dream for those who still owe thousands, but Warren’s proposal seems to be very real. While every proposal has flaws and there can always be speculation, this proposal is bringing much needed attention to a problem that hits close to home for college students.
Student loan debt plagues millions, and we can be part of the solution by casting a vote.