President Joe Biden made a promise on the 2020 campaign trail to cancel at least $10,000 in education debt per borrower, which would provide relief for the 43 million Americans who have taken out federal loans. But Biden has yet to fulfill his campaign promise.
The payment deadline for education loans has been extended five times during the entire pandemic and three times during the Biden administration alone. The president extended the payment deadline for education loans yet again late last month, this time extending the pause through May 1.
Biden’s continuous delays only prolong the problem millions of Americans are facing and stops short of implementing a long-term solution to make higher education more affordable.
Biden should stay true to his word and unilaterally cancel at least $10,000 in education debt per borrower via an executive order. Every college student deserves an equal opportunity to an affordable education and not be held back by financial constraints.
GW families are no strangers to student debt – 35 percent of GW undergraduate students take out federal or private loans, costing each of them a yearly average of about $6,500 in federal education loans.
The University’s tuition cost students almost $60,000 this academic year. Reducing each person’s education loans would ease the financial burden of current and former GW students and help make the sky-high tuition a bit more manageable for those who need the most help.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that there will be a “smooth transition into repayment” when the payment deadline is reached during a press briefing on Dec. 10. But restarting education loans will be anything but smooth for millions of Americans.
A November survey from the Student Debt Crisis Center found that 89 percent of fully employed loan borrowers described themselves as not being financially secure enough to restart loan repayments by the former deadline of Feb. 1. Just as startling, 21 percent of respondents said they will never be financially secure enough to make any payments again. These figures are significant, as 43 million Americans have unpaid education loans.
The impact of the pandemic is obvious and has only worsened many people’s financial statuses. Before the pandemic hit, 25 percent of fully employed loan borrower respondents described themselves as financially poor or very poor. Now 45 percent describe themselves the same way.
The recent rise of the Omicron variant brings economic uncertainty with it and makes education loan relief all the more necessary. While we can hope for Omicron to subside by the repayment resumption deadline in May, we should also prepare for continued challenges in facing the pandemic.
It falls on the Biden administration to anticipate these economic and political challenges and to provide a safety net for education loan borrowers in dire financial straits. The pandemic has been difficult enough for Americans struggling to make ends meet, and the Biden administration can ease the financial burden of millions by canceling thousands of dollars in education debt with the stroke of a pen.
The rising cost of college tuition over the past few decades is coupled with a rising number of Americans filing for education loans. While the crippling cost of higher education existed before COVID-19, the pandemic has caused these loans to burden Americans even more.
Race is also a huge factor in people’s ability to pay education loans. Black Americans have about seven times less wealth than white Americans. In addition, Black borrowers owe an average of $25,000 more in loans than white borrowers.
A June report from the Roosevelt Institute found that canceling $50,000 of education debt per borrower would lead to a 40 percent increase in Black wealth. Canceling education debt would help close America’s racial wealth gap and improve millions of Black Americans’ lives.
GW has a role in alleviating students’ financial burdens, too. GW has recently been attempting to collect donations to distribute Pell grants to students in need of financial help. But experts in higher education said in October that the award increase would likely only make tuition slightly more affordable for Pell-eligible students. GW has an obligation to pursue more effective ways of reducing its tuition and making college more affordable for its students.
The debate on this issue is ongoing. But the catastrophe that will result for millions when the payment deadline resumes is not up for debate. Considering this, and considering how unlikely it is that Congress will act on the education loan crisis, Biden must take matters into his own hands.
This action would be beneficial for current college students and alumni, including at GW. Canceling education debt would make a significant difference for many GW families struggling to afford the high tuition or pay off loans.
It is a pragmatic move and a moral imperative for Biden to use his presidential authority for the betterment of Americans struggling to make ends meet. Biden has already canceled $11.5 billion in education debt – more than any other president – making debt cancellation for each borrower a natural extension of his administration’s current policies.
Rather than helplessly hoping that Congress will pass a bill accomplishing this, Biden should use his executive authority to build on his administration’s progress. Lifting the burden of education debt off the backs of millions is crucial in providing people with security during turbulent times and ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve an affordable and valuable education, both at GW and across the country.
Evan Wolf, a freshman majoring in political communication, is an opinions writer.
This article appeared in the January 10, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.