‘Student debt is morally illegitimate’: How one group wants to abolish $511 billion in college loans for Southerners 

If President Biden does not extend the moratorium on student loan payments or cancel debt outright by Sept. 30, federal loan borrowers will have to resume paying back their student debt. 

Earlier this week, the Biden Administration removed more than $55 million in debt from 1,800 student loan borrowers. Although this cancelation was directed at loans given on fraudulent bases, the news has other debtors asking when they can expect cancelation for their loans. 

This temporary suspension on government-held federal student loans, which began last year, took financial pressure off of many borrowers throughout the pandemic and recession. With an estimated $1.71 trillion in total student loan debt, debt-elimination advocacy groups like The Debt Collective have ambitious strategies and solutions for the abolition of student loan debt.  

“People should not have to borrow money to go to college. That is why we are advocating for free public college and full student loan debt cancelation,” said Braxton Brewington, press secretary of The Debt Collective

Borrowers in Southern states collectively owe more than $511 billion in federal student loans. With reforms like free public college and full student loan debt cancelation, Southerners could have a better opportunity of narrowing the wealth and education gaps, advocates say.

While the Biden administration and many southern legislators have advocated for an incremental approach to debt relief, The Debt Collective understands how full cancelation could benefit everyone. 

“President Biden ran on saying, ‘I want to be president so I can unite the country.’ Not canceling student debt is not helping that agenda. What would help unite the country would be canceling student debt,” said Brewington.

In an op-ed for Teen Vogue Brewington wrote about the benefits of canceling student loan debt and the potential for it’s enormous bottom-up stimulus to our economy. 

And because student debt is racially regressive — Black borrowers owe 100% more in student debt than white borrowers four years after graduating — canceling this debt would drastically narrow a widening racial wealth gap, closing the Black-white wealth gap for student loan borrowers by more than 25 percentage points. 

A representative of Debt Collective spoke to Reckon about abolishing federal student loan debt, full debt cancelation and free public college.


What could full debt cancelation look like?


Debt cancelation is a progressive policy because it is righting the wrongs of the regressive nature of student debt. So when student debt is canceled, it is going to disproportionately benefit the folks in our country who need it the most.

Canceling student loan debt is not the fix to reforming higher education. This authority (of the president) is not a one time use, either. If President Biden wanted, he could commit to canceling federal student loan debt at the end of every semester, so we would never have it again. 

If you’re not advocating for full cancelation then that means you inherently believe that higher education is a commodity. We believe it is not a commodity that’s why we are fighting for full cancelation and free college because we are saying student debt is morally illegitimate. 


What strategy is there to make public colleges free? 


We need to return college back to the status of a public good, like it used to be. Although it was exclusive, it was free and available to people just like health care or housing, we see college as a public good too. 

Higher education should be free and available to everyone.

While national advocacy groups like The Debt Collective offer full cancelation and free public college as an approach to ending student loan debt, some Southern states have made more immediate strides to support residents that owe student loans. 

How are Southern states moving to support student loan debt borrowers? 

About 1.6 million Georgians have student loan debt, and borrowing has only increased for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), online-only and for-profit college students.

The University System of Georgia (USG), educating the majority of college students in the state, has made strides to reduce the amount borrowers take out by encouraging them to take 15 credit hours a semester (to graduate sooner) and covering the cost of online textbooks and study materials. USG has also created an initiative, “Know More, Borrow Less,” an online tool that works to reduce barriers to financial aid by improving students’ understanding of borrowing and reducing student debt.

Alabamian college graduates are moving away from the state after completing their degree. Five years after earning their bachelor’s degree, these graduates are finding employment outside of the state. Alabama legislators are trying new efforts to retain these graduates.

Last year lawmakers allocated $240,000 from the state education budget for the “Best and Brightest Initiative” that repays student loan debt up to $15,000 over five years.

North Carolina has the most Black HBCU undergraduate students enrolled and 90% of Black students have to borrow federal dollars to go to college. 

This debt is disproportionately affecting HBCU graduates. Shaw University, in Raleigh, and Fayetteville State University are using COVID-19 relief funds to ease the load of debt on their students. 

Shaw University relieved $116,000 in debt for its graduates; they allocated funds from the second COVID-19 stimulus package, passed last December to support borrowers. 

Fayetteville State University has used pandemic relief funds to clear $1.6 million in tuition debt for nearly 1,500 students. 

The Reckon Report.
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