Price on Politics: Don’t get your hopes up about student loans

Megan+Fisher

Megan Fisher

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

During the 2020 Democratic Primary Election, many candidates promised to cancel student loan debt in some way if elected president. Various proposals were introduced by candidates like the canceling of all public and private student loans to the canceling of a certain amount of the debt.

During the campaign, then-candidate Biden proposed in a tweet that “we should forgive a minimum of $10,000/person of federal student loans, as proposed by Senator [Elizabeth] Warren and colleagues.” 

Since he was elected, the president hasn’t said much on the issue. He extended the pause on federal student loan repayment through May 1 of this year. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has stated that the White House is “going to continue conversation around loan forgiveness.”

The administration has stated that it is committed to student loan forgiveness, but the action taken has been minimal.

So, is student debt canceling going to happen? I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

As noble a cause canceling student loan debt is, it’s not going to get done, at least not any time soon. Congress is even more divided now than it has been in decades. The Senate is divided 50-50, and political divisions run even deeper. With these divides, there’s no way it would get passed. 

Even if it had the support in Congress, the American people wouldn’t broadly support it. Even if Biden raised taxes on the few uber-rich upper class Americans as a wealth tax has been proposed to do, many everyday Americans would hear “raise taxes” and refuse to support it. Americans don’t want to feel as if they would be paying for someone else’s post-secondary education.

It’s important for the president to keep as many seats as he can in the upcoming midterm elections if he is to make progress with his agenda. He can’t be seen as trying to raise taxes on low and middle class Americans, even if that’s not what he is trying to do. 

President Biden and other Congressional Democrats have shown the desire to cancel student loans, but they haven’t shown the determination needed to get it done. Republicans haven’t felt any need to make young people feel that they are valid and given every possible opportunity if it means their wealthy supporters will lose some money.

Alex Rich, a junior political science major and the chairman of the WKU College Republicans, about the GOP opposition to student loan cancellation. He said that “the number one problem is it’s redistribution, and I think that’s a problem from an equality standpoint.” 

The counterargument about lower-class people being more likely to go to college isn’t always true. He explained that it was his view that it is mainly middle and upper class people that attend college. Those that don’t attend college don’t always do so because of financial inability. “People don’t grow up wanting to go to college or aspire to be things that don’t require a college degree.” 

Rich stated that a better solution to making college more affordable is “to tackle the ballooning costs of college.” This can be done depending on the individual institutions. Unnecessary expenses on the part of the university add up. Trimming these down would be a way to get prices for students down, as well.

I don’t disagree with Rich about tackling rising college prices. The older one gets, the more student loan debt they will have. According to educationdata.org, on average, a 35-year-old with loans has a debt 287% greater than the value of the original loan. In Kentucky alone, the total student debt adds up to $19.45 billion.

Something needs to be done, though. Kentucky House Bill 452 is a step in the right direction. The bill proposes to “provide a 4-year tuition freeze for an enrolled resident students.” This means that the price of school for a student at the beginning of their freshman year will remain the same throughout their time at the institution.

It’s a start, but it doesn’t quite go far enough.

Many young people have always heard the saying “knowledge is power” and other related sentiments for decades. Actions taken up to this point have not supported this view, however. Starting young adults off in their post-education lives in debt that’s going to take them years to pay off tells them that the world doesn’t value their possible future contributions enough to give them every possible opportunity to succeed in their chosen fields.

I’m aware that as a college student writing this piece, I may come off as whiny and uninformed. It is my future, and the futures of millions of people in the United States, that are affected by student loan debt. High school education has only recently begun the shift from college readiness to college or career readiness.

The generations before mine created a feeling that college is a requirement to succeed in life. Those that do not attend college are unfairly looked down upon as not good enough. As the workforce begins to get younger, trades and other careers are becoming more rare. 

Older generations complain that these jobs are not being done, but they are the same ones that told their children and grandchildren that self worth later in life is associated with the work that one does. They are the same people who told those of my generation that trades were not good enough and that they must go to college in order to be financially secure and successful.

The fact is that these things are simply not true.

My generation and the ones that come later should not be the ones that have to fix this unnecessary issue, yet we are the only ones willing to face the facts. It’s time for the Biden-Administration to act in some way, shape or form. The administration will not cancel student loan debt, but creating programs to help those that need it will go far. 

Showing young people that what they want to do–no matter what it is–is valid and giving them the opportunities to succeed without the worry of financial harm and insecurity is the most important thing the Biden-Harris administration and older generations can do. Giving young people the ability to work without the ball-and-chain that is student debt restricting them will allow them to thrive in whatever way they choose.

If the world is to go into the future a place that truly values education and work the way it says it does, then it is way past time to do something about the student loan debt and the ever-rising costs of college.

Commentary writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.