Column: Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan is a band-aid, not a solution

The student debt relief plan that the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris passed in August grants millions of borrowers the chance to get rid of some or even all of their student debt. This three-part plan forgives borrowers up to $20,000, extends the student loan repayment pause through 2022 and aims to streamline the student loan payment system. Americans pushed for student debt forgiveness for decades now while criticizing an education system that has grown far too costly.

Relief is far overdue considering former President Donald Trump hardly touched the idea of loan relief when he was in office and actually vetoed a major student debt relief bill.  And while the Biden-Harris administration’s loan forgiveness plan is definitely a step in the right direction, it is not enough. Considering the price tag of the United States’ education system – which costs an average of roughly $25,000 in tuition yearly for every in-state public school student – it discriminates against those of lesser financial status and perpetuates socioeconomic disparities to create a system that’s inaccessible overall.

Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan doesn’t address the absurd cost of higher education that is steadily rising. College has grown 169 percent more expensive in the last four decades and continues to rise each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At GW, tuition increased by 3.9 percent this past year to a whopping $62,110. And the University’s total cost of living now totals over $80,000 for on-campus undergraduate students. Saving up for college is no longer a feasible plan for most Americans. At the federal level, minimum wage hasn’t increased since 2009. The median household income has meanwhile decreased from $69,560 in 2019 to $67,521 in 2020. Income inequality is also worsening in the United States. Half of Americans own just about 2.5 percent of the country’s wealth as of 2021, and only three of the wealthiest citizens take home 45 percent of all new income. The rich continue to get richer, while the working class continues to struggle. Enabling such a costly education system perpetuates the detrimental cycle that abandons college plans under mounting tuition costs. The ability to attend and afford college should be a given for everyone, not a privilege.

Millions of more Americans would be able to attend college if it was more affordable, which would in turn open numerous employment opportunities and economic benefits. The cause of poverty often boils down to a lack of education, and making educational resources more widely available would play a role in decreasing crime in less financially stable neighborhoods.

The United States has more than enough money to sustain an affordable education plan. Take a look at other costly budgets in the U.S. – the military budget sits at roughly $801 billion annually, and the income security budget totals $215 billion, both outweighing the less than $189 million education budget. Implementing the American Family Plan, which would invest more in federal Pell Grant to make community college free, would cost about $290 billion – barely one-third of the military budget. Protecting the United States is vital, but so is educating those who selflessly protect the country for us. Federal officials should reallocate funds from other budget areas to work toward affordable education and avoid raising taxes on Americans.

Other countries like Denmark, Sweden, Germany and France have already committed to lowering the cost of college, leaving students with only small amounts of payments or even minor fees. Sweden offers free education for those pursuing doctorate programs. Germany slowly abolished tuition fees and created a dual education system that enrolls students in apprenticeships offering training and instruction instead of confining them to a single degree. Making college affordable is not a costly nor complex concept, and we have all of the resources we need to accomplish more affordable education now. The United States must follow in the footsteps of other countries to lower the cost of education for all.

While Biden’s recent student debt forgiveness plan is progress without a doubt, it is far overdue and cannot be the end of the push for affordable education. The United States education system has too much potential for the federal government to pass up investing in it. It’s time for us to recognize that education is a basic right, regardless of our financial status.

Maryn Larsen, a sophomore majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.

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