Former US Secretary of Education Urges Biden to Cancel Student Debt

  • John B. King Jr. is a former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Obama.
  • He says he still paid student loans when he was a member of the cabinet.
  • King says Biden must use his executive power to cancel student debt.

Like many other advocates for student advocacy and better justice in education, I am very encouraged by Biden’s Department of Education’s recent decision to cancel $ 415 million in student debt to victims of predatory fraud for profit.

The action builds on the Biden administration’s important work to close the gap on debt forgiveness claims ignored by the Trump administration, whose education minister, Betsy Devos, actually put former heads of looting commercial colleges in charge of the country’s higher education policy.

This spring, President Biden faces another important crossroads in higher education policy that will define our economic future and its legacy.

Although postponing the relaunch of federal student loan payments until May 1 has brought important temporary relief, a dark cloud still hangs over millions of borrowers.

Today, 42 million Americans have more than $ 1.6 trillion in federal student debt.

Too often the heavy burden of student debt doesn’t allow people to even think about buying a home, starting a family, or starting a new business. This is undoubtedly a crisis.

Fortunately, this is something that has a realistic solution that can turn millions of lives.

President Biden must use his executive powers to unilaterally eliminate student debt for each borrower.

And to ensure that this crisis does not happen again, Congress must join President Biden in getting the college out of debt.

Eliminating student debt and providing access to higher education for all Americans is more than just a winning political issue – it’s about our values.

Higher education changed the whole trajectory of my family. Just three generations ago, my great-grandfather was imprisoned in a cabin in Gaithersburg, Maryland, just 25 miles from where my family lives today.

A generation later, my grandmother was one of the first black women to graduate from the University of the East Coast of Maryland, and I continued to work as the U.S. Secretary of Education under the first black president of our country.

I was still paying off my student loans when I served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President Obama.

I was extremely proud when during my tenure the Department of Education forgave loans to students whose colleges were cheated or suddenly closed.

We have set up a special unit tasked with fighting predatory commercial colleges, which so often enjoy the benefits of color students, low-income students and veterans. We have created a debt cancellation procedure – as permitted by federal law – so that student loan borrowers can resume their lives. It was this process that the Biden administration used to cut off $ 2 billion in student debt to nearly 110,000 student borrowers. We also launched initiatives during the Obama administration to make it easier for borrowers to repay loans within their monthly budgets.

While I celebrate what we have achieved together on behalf of the students during the Obama administration, I recognize that the situation today is much more dire. If we are cured of COVID-19 and the associated economic crisis, we cannot afford to simply return to a “normal state”.

Back in 1980, the Pell Grant program accounted for 77% of tuition costs at the state’s 4-year college. Today, it covers less than a third of the cost, even as tuition rates continue to rise rapidly.

Not surprisingly, student debt has risen so sharply, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, forcing many colleges to cut budgets. After generations of states abandoned state higher education and Congress did not invest in the federal Pell Grant program, we placed the full cost of higher education on the shoulders of students and families.

Eliminating student debt is an equity-oriented idea.

The student debt crisis is disproportionately affecting students and colorful families – and reflects and exacerbates the racial difference in wealth.

According to Brookings, the average black college student owes more than $ 52,000 four years after graduation, while the average white college graduate owes about $ 28,000. A recent report by The Education Trust, Jim Crow Debt: How Black Borrowers Experience Student Loans, shares the experiences of black college graduates who see student duty as an extreme obstacle to realizing their aspirations and even describe their student loans as “life imprisonment”. “

Some argue that it would be strange to cancel student debt retrospectively without solving the problem in the future.

They are right. This should be the moment of the New Deal as we take even bolder action to address systemic challenges.

There should be a nationwide commitment to debt-free college for low- and middle-income students, and a truly affordable college for all.

What’s more, a traditional four-year college doesn’t have to be the only option for students. A free public college, as proposed by the Biden administration, is an absolute economic imperative.

The debt write-off has the support of officials on both sides.

Republican A. Wayne Johnson, the former head of Federal Student Aid, has proposed canceling up to $ 50,000 of student debt for each borrower. So did U.S. Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer.

During the Obama administration, then-Vice President Biden remarked, “Don’t tell me what you value, show your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Yet over the generations, our states have increased investment more rapidly in harmful policies such as mass imprisonment than in higher education.

If we are really going to create an economy that breaks down barriers to opportunity and raises everyone, then President Biden must listen to his own wise counsel and act now to abolish student debt.

John B. King Jr. is a former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Obama, president of the Education Foundation and current candidate for governor of Maryland.

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