Student Debt Activists Say Much More Is Needed — Including Free College

Progressive lawmakers and campaigners have achieved a partial victory in the long-running fight to eliminate student debt. They also highlighted the importance of a closely interconnected goal, which is making public colleges and universities tuition free for everyone.

While President Joe Biden’s plan to wipe $10,000 off the student loan balances of most federal borrowers includes reforms that will make debt repayment more manageable going forward — as well as new rules aimed at cracking down on institutions that drown vulnerable students in debt — it will do little to alter an absurd and massively unjust systemThis allows colleges and universities to raise costs at their will.

“Much like the medical system, higher education is badly in need of price regulation,” writes The American Prospect’s Ryan Cooper. “For decades now, the government has been shoveling subsidies into colleges and universities, and (with a few exceptions) they have responded by jacking their prices through the roof. Biden can’t do this by himself, of course, but it’s long since time for the government to start demanding a better deal for itself — and American students.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), during his 2016 presidential campaign, helped to elevate and mainstream tuition-free public universities and colleges. frequently notedThey are a staple of many major countries and were commonplace in the United States.

However, tuition and fees for public colleges and universities are not covered by the government. surgedRecent decades have made it more important for students from lower-income households to take on more assignments. obscene levels of debtTo pursue higher education. The average federal student loans debt balance is $37,113 — and with private loan debt included, that figure jumps to nearly $41,000.

“The average public university student borrows $30,030 to attain a bachelor’s degree,” notesThe Education Data Initiative.

Estimates of what it would cost the federal government to make public colleges and universities tuition-free — thus removing the primary reason for student loan debt — vary, with some analysts putting the cost at around $80 billion a year.

That sum, a mere fraction of the Pentagon’s yearly budget, is easily affordable. David Deming, economist, says that it is possible to afford this amount. noted, “the federal government spent $91 billion on policies that subsidized college attendance” in 2016.

“That is more than the $79 billion in total tuition and fee revenue for public institutions,” Deming observed. “At least some of the $91 billion could be shifted into making public institutions tuition-free.”

“In short,” he added, “at least some — and perhaps all — of the cost of universal tuition-free public higher education could be defrayed by redeploying money that the government is already spending.”

Sanders and Rep. Pramila Japal (D-Wash.), could also be considered. proposedBy taxing Wall Street speculation, a plan to finance tuition-free public colleges or universities can be funded.

“If the United States is going to effectively compete in the global economy, we need the best-educated workforce in the world, and that means making public colleges and universities tuition-free as many other major countries currently do — and that includes trade schools and minority-serving institutions as well,” Sanders saidWednesday, in a statement

“In the year 2022, in the wealthiest country on Earth,” the senator continued, “everyone in America who wants a higher education should be able to get that education without going into debt.”

Wednesday’s message was echoed by others. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) argued in the wake of Biden’s announcement of $10,000 in student debt cancellation for most borrowers that “student debt relief is just one component of a moral society.”

“We also need to make college tuition-free so debt is not accumulated moving forward and invest in universal early education,” said Omar.

Consider, however, that in 2016, the most recent available year, the federal government spent $91 trillion on policies that subsidize college attendance. This is more money than the $79 billion in tuition and fees revenue for public institutions. Some of the $91billion could be used to make public schools tuition-free.

Biden ran his presidential campaign. endorsedStudents from families with less than $125,000 per year are eligible to receive tuition-free public colleges or universities

But the president hasn’t pushed for that proposal during his first year and a half in the White House. Last year, an attemptRight-wing Democrats opposed the plan to make community college tuition free as part of Build Back Better.

According to the Education Department, the president’s newly announced plan will entail “steps to reduce the cost of college for students and their families and hold colleges accountable for raising costs, especially when failing to deliver good outcomes to students.”

“The department is announcing new steps to take action against colleges that have contributed to the student debt crisis,” the agency said in a statement Wednesday. “These include publishing an annual watch list of the programs with the worst debt levels in the country and requesting institutional improvement plans from colleges with the most concerning debt outcomes that outline how the college intends to bring down debt levels.”

These changes are welcome but unlikely to lead in large-scale tuition cost reductions.

“We intend to keep fighting until all student debt is canceled and college is free,” tweeted Astra Taylor, a co-founder of the Debt Collective, the nation’s first debtors’ union and a driving force behind grassroots support for broad-based student debt cancellation.

“If Biden can cancel this much debt, he can cancel it all. And one day, a president will,” Taylor added. “And yes, we are coming for medical debt, rent, and carceral debt too.”