In a nation where universities have long been seen as a mechanism of upward social mobility, skyrocketing costs of attendance are making higher education increasingly inaccessible to low-income and middle-class families.
As a recent price-fixing scandal from 16 elite universities shows us, these institutions have long favored the wealthy while excluding low-income students from being admitted and accessing the socioeconomic benefits of a college degree. Many students fail to graduate because of financial obstacles—but even if they do, student loan debt traps them in poverty, forcing borrowers to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt over their lifetimes. In a desperate attempt not to fall behind, borrowers have sold their eggs, organs, and all their furniture; some still haven’t paid back what they owe in full.
As current students, we believe education should be a right for all people and understand that canceling student loan debt is one of the most impactful ways to mitigate economic and racial inequality in this country. It’s why we wrote a letter, calling on the Biden administration to cancel student loan debt, and why over 110 student body presidents, representing over 1.4 million students, have joined our call for change.
“Relieving student debt is a moral and economic imperative for the Biden Administration to take on, and must be done without delay,” the letter reads. “Canceling student loans will spur economic growth and entrepreneurship, expand educational opportunities, reduce dropout rates, close the racial wealth gap, and uplift millions of borrowers suffocated by $1.7 trillion in student loan debt.”
Contrary to criticisms that student loan forgiveness would be a giveaway to upper-middle class students, eliminating student loan debt would help the lowest income borrowers the most. According to the Brookings Institution, “canceling student debt would make the income and wealth distributions more egalitarian and nearly eliminate negative net worth households from the wealth distribution.” In other words, canceling student loan debt would monumentally mitigate existing wealth gaps, lifting households trapped by debt into financial solvency. This would be transformative by opening up more financial and personal opportunities for low-income households, as research has shown that student loan debt delays homeownership, marriage, and starting a family.
Student debt exacts its worst toll on marginalized communities by exacerbating the existing racial wealth gap. Black college graduates have on average $25,000 more student loan debt compared to white college graduates. Additionally, 20 years after starting college, while the median white borrower will have paid off 94 percent of their debt, the median Black borrower will only have paid off 5 percent of their student loans. This is why, in the words of Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP, “you cannot begin to address the racial wealth gap without addressing the student loan crisis.” By canceling student loan debt, the Biden administration can increase Black wealth by 40 percent in this country.
On the campaign trail, President Biden promised student debt relief. He has the power to fulfill this promise and make a difference in millions of lives with the stroke of a pen. By canceling student loan debt, he can bring us closer to a nation where everyone can obtain an education regardless of geography, race, or class.
If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.