Presidential candidates should aim for progressive debt relief plans

For many students, taking out federal student loans is one of the only options to afford schools like GW. Almost 40 percent of undergraduates take out loans to complete their education, slightly less than the national average.

The average student debt for those who attended private nonprofit universities like GW nears $33,000 at the time of graduation. Students burdened by loans, which often take decades to pay off, are rightfully worried about how long their debt will affect their life. But some candidates vying for president – Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. – have proposed plans that would wipe out student debt, a hot topic that has become a point of contention among presidential hopefuls.

Eliminating student debt could have big economic benefits, but some critics are justifiably concerned. Economic experts say cutting student debt would boost the economy by enabling the nearly 50 million people who carry debt to spend more money once they finish college. But some economists say that wiping out student debt does not take into consideration the larger issue of rising tuition costs and the potentially unfair benefits it could have on wealthier students who have the means to pay off their debt.

Plans like Warren’s and Sanders’ are helping us think in the right direction of college affordability, but the ideas are not the best ways to end the student debt crisis. Before advocating for plans that would eliminate outstanding debt, candidates should weigh plans to reduce the cost of college and work to ensure low-income students get financial assistance first.

Concerns about debt forgiveness surround student fiscal responsibility, as some people argue that students should understand how much a school will cost and how much they are able to pay. Others have said the plan will not solve the overall problem of rising tuition costs, and that canceling student debt would unnecessarily benefit middle- to upper-class students who will not need to pay off loans they can already afford.

Critics say those who benefit most from debt forgiveness are those who took out the most loans – graduate students whose higher-level degrees could land them higher-paying jobs, making them more able to pay off their loans without debt forgiveness. Getting rid of student debt right now also would not solve the real issue at hand – the skyrocketing cost of attendance. Look at GW alone – the University’s price tag has been on the rise for the past several years.

Before candidates propose and support a plan to get rid of all college debt, they should consider plans to lower the cost of attendance. Candidates should consider plans that are not regressive, like a predictive income-based forgiveness program that would forgive student debt for graduates in lower-income ranges. Candidates should also propose plans to expand existing government options like the Pell Grant and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Expanding aid given through the Pell Grant and meeting full aid at some universities would increase the amount of money students receive from the government for attending college and increase the socioeconomic diversity at different institutions. Expanding the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program would allow those who are going into public service to obtain their degrees and dedicate themselves to their public service without paying off loans. It is also more realistic to expand an existing program than it is to enact an unprecedented change like slashing student debt. Income-based repayment and the PSLF, both existing government programs, were expanded in 2010, 2012 and 2015.

Candidates need to focus on what has caused the student debt crisis and not place a Band-Aid on the problem by erasing student debt. Some candidates, like Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., have proposed more moderate plans that have a chance of making long-term impacts. Without addressing the root problem, any plan or solution will not stick and make lasting change.

In theory, allowing the federal government to pay off all the student debt would temporarily fix the student debt crisis and stimulate the economy. But candidates need to address what is causing the problem and what programs we already have that can fix it.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of assistant copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, contributing design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.

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