Biden’s Student Debt Relief Plan Is Lazy

Biden’s student debt forgiveness program falls short of its promises.

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As seniors in high school, students are busy facing various difficult decisions and obstacles during college application season. However, one almost uniquely American aspect that many have to consider is the astronomically high tuition fees. There are probably colleges that you omitted solely because of the high cost. Recognizing the demand for change, President Joe Biden advertised for solving student debt in his campaign—in a peculiar way. Instead of policies modeled by other first world countries, he simply forgave student debts of low-income students who met eligibility requirements. If you are single and make less than $125 thousand a year, or if you make less than $250 thousand collectively in a marriage, then you are eligible for up to $10 thousand in loan forgiveness. Students who receive a Pell Grant, a program in which the government grants money rather than loans to help fund the education of low-income students, are eligible for up to $20 thousand. Pell Grant recipients typically come from a family that makes less than $60 thousand annually.

Many who defend Biden’s policy advocate for equity, arguing that it does not benefit the already rich, who can go to private schools, a common misconception, but rather the college dropouts. They argue that these dropouts do not have sufficient income in order to afford amenities beyond necessities, despite their relatively low debt. It is true that these measures are reflected in the policy. Those who go to private institutions often end up with an income higher than $125 thousand and end up in the top five percent of the wealth, making them ineligible for the program.

However, the problem isn’t with equity, but rather with the lack of actual reform that comes with the policy. Biden’s administration has stressed that this initiative is a one-time event, meaning that future students will not be able to rely on the same forgiveness. All this so-called reform does is plant a false hope that students will be able to strike it lucky. It does not change the student debt system institutionally or touch on the roots of the problem, which are high tuition fees, living expenses, and interest rates.

The goals of the reform listed on the White House website include advancing racial equity and protecting future students. These are long-term results that come from long-term reforms. It is deceiving to be promoting this short-term solution as a way to reach them. Instead of falsely painting the policy as the grand change that his campaign promised, Biden’s administration should be admitting that it is just as temporary as the student loan payment pauses that they implemented and extended to account for the depressed economy during the pandemic. It is a temporary fix—nothing less, nothing more.

To actually reach these long-term goals, the Biden administration should tighten federal regulations on student loan interests or even eliminate interest altogether for low-income students. In Sweden, the interest rate was 0.13 percent in 2018, whereas in the US, it was around 4.45 percent the same year. Sweden’s universities do not charge tuition either, so the student debt is only for living expenses. Even if the complete elimination of tuition is not possible, America should at least follow in the footsteps of countries like England, which federally regulates tuition to be a maximum of $12,900. In addition, in Sweden, there is a larger repayment window that automatically increases the relative expense going toward paying student debt (proportional to income) as the years go by. This plan is beneficial for students, as students receive a higher salary as time goes by. They aren’t as pressured to pay off the debt right after their college education. Adopting these changes could benefit American students and be a better step forward. More general goals to reach long-term solutions could include expanding job markets for those without college degrees, increasing federal funding for financial aid programs, and creating a more affordable housing market.

Biden’s student debt forgiveness program falls short of its promises. It does nothing to change the future of America’s college system and can be compared to putting a bandage onto a leaking pipe. It’s only a matter of time before the water starts gushing out again.