Last week, some of the nation’s largest organizations advocating for free college and widespread student loan forgiveness endorsed Joe Biden for President.
“There is only one candidate who will take the steps needed to eliminate tuition and student loan debt— Vice President Joe Biden,” said Max Lubin, Co-Founder and CEO of Rise and Natalia Abrams, Founder & Executive Director of Student Debt Crisis in a press release. “The students, parents, and allies who support Rise and Student Debt Crisis voted overwhelmingly to endorse Vice President Biden for President of the United States of America. Today, we echo their voices.”
The volume of student loan debt has grown enormously over the course of the past 10 years, from around $830 billion in 2010 to at least $1.6 trillion last year. Student loan debt is now the largest form of consumer debt carried by Americans, aside from mortgages. There is more outstanding student loan debt then there is credit card debt or auto loans. Over 40 millions Americans have student loans. At least 70% of college graduates leave school in debt. College students were graduating with an average of $30,000 in student loans in 2013, but only three years later, that figure had jumped to $37,000.
Meanwhile, the ability of student loan borrowers to repay their loans has flatlined. At least one in four student loan borrowers are delinquent, in default, or otherwise unable to pay their loans due to low income or economic hardship. Student loan borrowers continue to struggle financially while putting off savings, retirement, and major life decisions like buying a home. The coronavirus and associated recession have only magnified these financial difficulties for student loan borrowers.
Joe Biden, who had initially been hesitant to endorse broad cancellation of student loan debt, has embraced more dramatic steps to alleviate the burden of student loan debt in the wake of the pandemic and recent racial justice protests. Under his plan, Biden would forgive all undergraduate federal student loan debt for borrowers with annual incomes under $125,000 who attended public colleges and universities, as well as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and private minority-serving institutions (MSIs). Biden also supports $10,000 in across-the-board student loan forgiveness for all borrowers as an economic stimulus in response to the recession. He has also expressed support for Senator Warren’s proposal to amend the bankruptcy code to allow student loan debt to be more easily discharged in bankruptcy.
Biden also supports debt-free college initiatives for community colleges and public universities that are similar to plans previously offered by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Biden has also supported cracking down on the for-profit college industry and strengthening the relief available to borrowers harmed by these schools. His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), has also been a critic of for-profit colleges, and she helped take down a predatory national for-profit college chain while she was Attorney General of California.
Last week, Senator Warren and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced a Senate resolution calling on the next President to exercise executive authority to bypass Congress and cancel $50,000 in student loan debt for all borrowers. The Biden campaign has not formally responded to the resolution, but he has reportedly indicated that, if elected, he could exercise his executive authority.
There could be hurdles to enacting widespread student loan forgiveness. Critics of have pointed out that the benefits may be skewed towards wealthier households. Republicans in Congress have resisted student loan forgiveness efforts. And widespread student loan forgiveness could have tax consequences and could also substantially increase the deficit, which is already growing due to recent stimulus relief in response to the pandemic.
Nevertheless, student loan borrower advocates are arguing that Joe Biden is the best candidate to tackle the student debt crisis and enact broad relief. “As President and Vice President, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will carry out their promises to make college free and affordable for all and eliminate student loan debt for millions of Americans,” said Lubin and Abrams. “That is why we are proud to endorse them today and commit to turning out student and student loan voters in battleground states to flip them blue.”