Editorial: Student loan debt forgiveness only goes so far

The weight of student loan debt may be eased or lifted for many individuals following an announcement by President Joe Biden with a loan forgiveness plan that will soon go into effect.

The plan allows individuals to have their student loans forgiven if they make less than $125,000 per year for an individual and $250,000 for married couples. The forgiveness could provide $20,000 in debt relief for people who are Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for other borrowers. 

The debt forgiveness program doesn’t mean people will automatically be getting checks for $10,000 or $20,000; forgiveness is awarded based on how much debt a student has collected.

For example, if a student qualifies for up to $20,000 forgiveness but has $8,000 in loans, only the amount they have accrued in debt will be paid off.

According to NPR, there are 43 million people who would have their student loan debt lessened and 20 million who could have their debt canceled altogether. The White House estimated that 90% of relief will go to people making less than $75,000 a year.

According to the Department of Education, 8 million individuals can have their loans forgiven automatically from information that the department has on hand. However, other borrowers will have to go through an application process before the student loan payment freeze ends on Dec. 31. 

The typical debt of a recent college graduate who has taken out loans is about $25,000 post-graduation, according to the Department of Education. The forgiveness plan could make a substantial impact on borrowers. 

Those in favor of loan forgiveness from the federal government have argued that by reducing student debt, borrowers will be able to participate in the economy after graduation. It encourages students to take their money and put it elsewhere, like putting a down payment on a house or a car. This will give borrowers more buying power and more independence upon graduation.

On the other hand, critics of the move have pointed out that it does not address the rising cost of higher education overall. There has also been backlash from those who have already paid off student loans without government assistance or who pursued alternatives to higher education to avoid accruing student debt.

The exponential growth in college-related costs for students only highlights the need for relief and nullifies assertions that loan repayment today is not equitable to the ability to repay in past generations.

This policy is the first large-scale attempt at federal student loan forgiveness in the United States. However, it is familiar to many other countries within Europe and its introduction is leaving many people tentatively hopeful about the impact it will have on taxes in the long run.

Loan forgiveness ultimately will not solve the larger issue- higher education in not accessible to people in the U.S. because it isn’t affordable. Cost will remain a barrier to those without the resources to pay tuition as it rises year after year.

Failure to address the root of this issue, beyond the weight of student loans, endangers any prospect of a more just, equitable America for our future generations.