White House mulls student loan forgiveness for millions of borrowers
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Biden administration is expected to make a big announcement about student debt this week. Some borrowers could see thousands of dollars of debt erased. That would be welcome relief for the millions of people burdened by college loans. But is this a long-term solution? We're going to talk about this with Jared Bass. He is senior director for higher education at the Center for American Progress. Good morning, Jared.
JARED BASS: Good morning.
MARTIN: So over 40 million Americans are in debt for their education, which is sort of a staggering number. Do you believe that loan forgiveness in some form is a smart solution?
BASS: You know, I do. I think it provides relief to borrowers. You know, I think we have a system - it's a debt finance system that we say if you go into, you know, college debt or student debt, that you have access to the American dream or economic opportunity. But for many borrowers, they're struggling, you know, because of rising college costs, this investment, they've had to rely on student loans more than other forms of federal assistance that actually provide aid. So I think that debt cancellation is the first step, but it really does need to be coupled with long-term solutions or a comprehensive approach to address college affordability in order to prevent another student debt crisis moving forward.
MARTIN: Right. And we're going to talk about that. But is there a way to do debt forgiveness fairly? Because a lot of people will point out the fact that they have paid their student loans back in full after working and sacrificing. How does the administration walk that line?
BASS: You know, I think you have to walk that line just looking at, you know, just the existing programs already. So we have public service loan forgiveness. We have income-driven repayment, which are both repayment options that promise debt forgiveness or debt cancellation already within the higher education system. Unfortunately, you know, the Government Accountability Office and other government watchdogs have found that those programs have not been working. So in another sense, you know, there's a question of fairness to borrowers who were hoping to rely on those programs in order to see some debt relief. Those programs have not worked. So debt cancellation, especially one that's broad based, could be seen as, you know, making good on government's promise to those borrowers as well. So there's an issue of fairness on that side.
MARTIN: You can't ignore the politics of this, right? I mean, this announcement is expected just a couple of months before the midterm election. But let's get to the issue you brought up. Is it really a sustainable kind of solution or just a convenient political promise? Because it's really about the affordability of college, which has just become completely out of reach for so many Americans. How is it that we expect people to be saddled with all this debt? I mean, just in the last few decades, college tuition has on average increased by 9% each year.
BASS: You know, those are staggering numbers. And, you know, even looking beyond just the last decade, it's also staggering as well, as well outpaced inflation. You know, again, I think that debt cancellation is the first step. I do think we have to look at both the root causes and effects of student debt crisis. So we just came out with a report recently called "After President Biden Cancels Debt" where we really explore key questions. You know, after President Biden cancels debt, and rumors are that he's going to do so as early as today, you know, how do we prevent another situation of student debt crisis in the future? And then what do we do with any remaining debt? With the first question, there are really three things that the government can do in order to avoid another student debt crisis and kind of provide those long-term solutions we talked about. So first is increasing grant aid - so reducing the overreliance on loans. Loans are the No. 1 form of assistance that we provide to students. So it's no wonder that we have a student debt crisis. Two is controlling the actual cost of college. We just had a conversation about that. And the third is really just to hold institutions accountable for poor outcomes, to make sure that students get a quality education that actually helps them enter the marketplace and achieve economic security.
MARTIN: Jared Bass, senior director for higher education at the Center for American Progress, thank you so much for your context on this. We appreciate it.
BASS: Great. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.