Students lend their thoughts on student debt following State of the Union omission

By Renee Walker, Mar. 8, 2022

President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1 left many students questioning his more than hour-long speech, as there were no mentions of student loan debt forgiveness. College students and alumni alike have wondered if Biden is rolling back on his campaign promise to forgive up to $10,000 in student debt for every borrower.

Student loans remain one of the biggest debts as Americans owe a total $1.7 trillion to lenders. The lacking mention of student loan forgiveness may signal that the Biden administration is prioritizing student loans less.

According to the California State University, 48% of CSU students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from 2017 to 2018 acquired student loan debt. In a 2020 report by LendEdu, Cal Poly Pomona ranked No. 39 for colleges in the west with the least amount of student debt per borrower, with 53% of graduates assuming at average $22,404 in loans.

Members of Cal Poly Pomona’s student body shared their personal burdens trying to afford America’s education system.

“I already have tons of student loans and I’m driving myself into the ground trying to balance school and work,” said Kelise Whitehorne, a psychology student. “If America wants us to become educated to keep the economy going, then why don’t we have free education?”

Working while attending class is a reality that millions of students around the United States experience. Some students work toward financial freedom, some work for fun and some students work because applying for an increase in student loans is not an option.

“Financial aid does not cover enough for me to attend school; I also cover all my own bills,” said Shaela Young, a student assistant at the African American Student Center. “Everything is on your own. It’s your ass if you don’t pass classes, and it’s your ass if you don’t make it to work on time.”

Of the 48% of student borrowers in the CSU system, the average amount of student debt a bachelor’s graduate accumulates is $15,531. The Education Data Initiative reported in 2022 that the average federal student loan balance is $37,113, while the average private student loan balance may be as high as $40,000.

High private and federal student loan balances are leaving Americans scrambling over whether to make payments on their debts or to simply leave them be.

“That’s something I debate every day, because of how much I believe debt is not as tangible or as useful as people think it is,” said Usiomo Ujadughele, a chemical engineering student. “Debt can be useful, but certain types of debt do nothing but weigh you down and don’t let you reach your full potential for financial freedom.”

Borrowers looked forward to Biden’s campaign promise to cancel student loan debt after Sen. Bernie Sanders ran on that same promise during his 2020 campaign. Biden’s approval rating among voters under 30 years of age has dropped from 70% to 42% as of January.

President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel student loan debt starts with reforming the bankruptcy system, which makes discharging student loan borrowers increasingly difficult. As reported by CNN, Richard Cordray, Biden’s federal student aid chief, relayed a message to Congress that the Department of Education had started discussing reforming student loan bankruptcy rules, but the agency more recently has actively fought borrower relief in federal bankruptcy court.

For change to be enacted, legislation from Congress will need to be developed. A proposed bill to reform the bankruptcy system titled the Fresh Start Through Bankruptcy Act of 2021 gained bipartisan support last year.

On Aug. 7, 2021, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee to introduce the act to the Senate floor. Durbin expressed his concerns for the 45 million student borrowers in the U.S. who were swindled by for-profit universities.

“For some, it’s holding them back from buying a first home, starting a family, or a business. For others, it means delaying retirement because of this debt. This is not just an individual misfortune. The student debt crisis is a threat to our economy,” Durbin said.

Since the introduction of the act there has been no major legislation to cancel student loan debt. Pressure grows on the Biden administration to develop any kind of legislation to give Americans peace of mind. After more than two years of the freeze on student loan payments due to COVID-19, payments are expected to continue in May, and borrowers are not happy about it. The struggle to balance payments and the American dream will continue for many as they wonder about the importance of debt.

“America can make more [money] from me borrowing, than from me working,” said Jake Northington, a graduate assistant at the African American Student Center. “Everything is importation and that takes away jobs. The outsourcing of so many jobs and materials creates this situation for debt. Now I have to borrow the money because I don’t earn it, I don’t make it and I don’t have it.”

Feature image courtesy of Towfiqu barbhuiya

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