Biden on Student Loan Debt: What’s it All About?

It has nearly been five months since President Biden made his announcement unveiling his plans to relieve student loan debt. But what exactly do the President’s plans entail? How have people reacted? Most importantly, is this a sound policy?

Seth Ebio

College should be treated as a right, not a privilege. I don’t believe that college is necessary to living a happy and successful life, but getting a degree certainly helps. Consider these figures released in a research summary by the Social Security Administration. Their summary found that “[m]en with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates.” Similarly, women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more than their high school graduate counterparts. College graduates have a clear advantage here. In an article published in 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that about half of the jobs it analyzed required a college degree of some sort. It also listed 36 jobs which required a bachelor’s degree. 

Seeing as our economy is increasingly requiring that people earn a college degree to secure good-paying jobs, college must be made more accessible. College isn’t free. Fortunately financial aid does exist, provided by the federal government and, to a lesser degree, state governments. College students typically apply for financial aid using the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Among the three types of financial aid, loans are the most popular, with close to one in five Americans currently having student loan debt. That’s 45 million people whose debt, in total, is $1.6 trillion and rising due to interest. This isn’t helped by the fact that, according to a recently published report by the College Board, the cost of tuition has almost tripled in the last four decades. Even worse, financial aid has lagged behind college tuition. The Department of Education released new numbers showing how Pell Grants, financial aid given to students coming from low-income backgrounds, are doing very little to help. In fact, the majority of Pell Grant recipients came from families making less than $60,000 per year.

The point: financial aid has fallen short of its intended objective. This is scandalous! If our government’s purpose is to “promote the general welfare” to maximize the health and well-being of its people, it must therefore ease this burden. College should not be a barrier, but a gateway to a successful life. So how has the President addressed this? His strategy is threefold. It consists of 1) canceling $20,000 worth of student loan debt for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for those who aren’t 2) making the system of student loans more manageable by halving monthly payments for undergraduate loans in addition to making needed changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and 3) protecting future students and taxpayers by pushing for free community college tuition while also reducing college costs by holding schools responsible when they rake up their prices. These measures were carried out through executive order.

Biden’s program hasn’t been received with universal praise. Critics, such as Canadian businessman and Shark Tank host Kevin O’Leary, have lambasted the plan, fearing that it’ll exacerbate ongoing inflation. O’Leary has even declared Biden’s plan as “a policy born in hell”. A CNBC survey has also found that “59% of Americans worry student loan forgiveness will make inflation worse.” While it’s true that the country continues to suffer from high inflation and elevated costs of living, inflation has actually decreased, defying the expectations of many economists. The BLS reported that, as of last month, consumer prices have jumped by 7.1%, just shy of the 7.3% economists had expected. There doesn’t seem to be a link between the President’s program and the predicted economic disaster.

On Nov. 10, 2022 the program was forced to stop. Mark Pittman, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas, ruled the program as unconstitutional on the grounds that the means by which the President enacted it, via executive order, usurped Congress’s authority. This was a formidable blow to the President and his agenda. In the meantime, President Biden has extended the moratorium on student loan debt until June 2023. Until then, the President faces a battle against the Supreme Court. The tragedy of all this is that college has become more of an obstacle than a gateway to a successful life. More permanent measures are needed to solve this problem for good.