AJC Get Schooled: Mixed reactions to Biden’s student loan decision

There was plenty of reaction from education leaders and other experts to President Joe Biden’s announcement Wednesday that he plans to forgive a portion of student loan debt for many borrowers. His plan would eliminate up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers with an annual income of less than $125,000; and would cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for Pell Grant recipients whose loans are held by the federal government.

Many of the responses were thought provoking. We decided we’d share some of the comments.

Adam Brandon, FreedomWorks President:

“The government cannot continue subsidizing a deeply broken higher education system that promotes irresponsible financial decisions paid for by working-class Americans. This decision is a slap in the face for the millions of Americans without a college degree, and the millions of Americans who have paid back their student loans. Where do they go for their relief?”

Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress:

“President Biden’s action tackles alarming and growing disparities in our economy by recognizing that the burden of student loans has not been shared equally. In awarding additional debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients, the president is taking a monumental step to ensure relief reaches the people who need it most.”

Lindsey Burke, director of the center for education policy at the Heritage Foundation, and Adam Kissel, Heritage visiting fellow for higher education:

“Working and middle-class Americans who chose not to go to college, or who responsibly paid off their student loans, should not be forced to pay off the loans of others. Biden’s loan cancellation scheme forces them to do just that. It will rob working Americans in order to pay off the college degrees of individuals who are statistically more likely to earn more in their lifetimes simply by possessing a college degree. This is radically unfair, and it’s the epitome of putting special interests ahead of working Americans.”

Jaylon Herbin, outreach associate and policy manager for the Center for Responsible Lending:

“Despite the historic nature of today’s announcement, borrowers still need substantial, broad-based cancellation that is automatic and free from a burdensome application process. Under the $10,000 plan, millions will see only a small decrease in their debt burden. Furthermore, the means-testing approach limits relief, adds unnecessary red tape to cancellation and places significant barriers in the way of relief for low-income borrowers who lack the means to navigate whatever process will be put into place to obtain forgiveness.”

Lodriguez V. Murray, United Negro College Fund senior vice president of public policy and government affairs:

“I was a Pell Grant recipient when I attended Morehouse College. I know the struggles of hustling to gather the resources and how real debt accumulation is to a first-generation college and or high school graduate. For me, and for UNCF, this is not just policy in a vacuum, this is real. There are those who say a rising tide floats all boats, but especially after the summer of racial reckoning that began in summer 2020, we know more emphasis must be applied to those who are most in need. The administration is using their executive power to provide a level of equity that is nothing short of praiseworthy.”

Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Peter McPherson:

“Congress and the administration must meet the needs of students on the lowest end of the income scale. Doubling the maximum Pell Grant award, as the Biden administration has proposed, can give these students critical resources to help pay for college and speed their path toward a degree, allowing them to enter the workforce earlier.”

American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell:

“Congress can and should take a variety of steps, including lowering student loan interest rates, capping the interest that accrues on loans and streamlining a complicated and confusing repayment system, and restoring the ability to discharge student loan debt through bankruptcy. ... State legislators also need to act to reverse state disinvestment in higher education, a major driver of rising tuition prices at public institutions and a big reason why many students are forced to borrow more to pay for college.”

Ben Ritz, director of the Center for Funding America’s Future project at the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI):

“Attempting to grant mass debt cancellation by executive order also risks setting a dangerous precedent that would allow future presidents to unilaterally spend over a trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money without explicit approval from their representatives in the House and Senate. Congress and the courts must set clear guardrails to prevent future presidents from abusing their discretion and usurping the power of the purse.”

Inez Stepman, senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum:

“Student loan forgiveness overwhelmingly benefits, at a 7-1 ratio, the upper middle class at the expense of the millions of working Americans who chose not to take on the debt of a degree. It will further escalate the cost of going to college, which has skyrocketed above inflation for decades because the government loan industry has decided that universities are worth subsidizing with trillions.”

Alpha Taylor, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center:

“Today we are celebrating, and tomorrow there will be more work to do. This relief is huge for the roughly 20 million people whose student loan debt may be wiped out completely, but we also know that many borrowers, including Black women who carry the heaviest student debt burdens, will continue to struggle with their remaining debt until the student loan system is fixed.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

“Today’s announcement shows that debt isn’t set in stone, that pauperization is not inevitable, and that, through activism and persistence, we can remove the shackles holding borrowers, and our country, down. Far too many young adults who go to college lack the means to do so: That’s why student debt has exploded to $1.7 trillion. Their debt sentence means they have little or no ability to start a family, buy a car or a house, or make other major life decisions.”

Ambalika Williams, Rise’s national director of organizing:

“I defaulted on my student loans after leaving an abusive relationship a few years ago. Today, I woke up with the realization that I will be debt-free and finally able to heal.”