UCLA community members assert recent student loan forgiveness is positive start
President Joe Biden speaks on the 2020 campaign trail. UCLA community members said Biden’s decision to forgive some student loan debt could provide relief to borrowers. (Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin staff)
This post was updated Sept. 5 at 8:34 p.m.
President Joe Biden’s decision to forgive student loan debt will provide relief to many students and alumni with loans, but gaps in debt forgiveness could still persist, according to UCLA community members.
Biden announced a student loan forgiveness plan Aug. 24 consisting of three parts: providing debt relief to address the pandemic’s effects on finances, increasing accessibility to the student loan system and decreasing the cost of higher education, according to the White House.
People filing individually on taxes who make a yearly income of less than $125,000 or two people filing jointly with an annual income of less than $250,000 are eligible for $10,000 of student loan forgiveness, said Hannah Appel, co-director of the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.
Debt from both undergraduate and graduate education qualifies, she said, adding that Pell Grant recipients, who typically do not need to pay back the grant, are eligible for $20,000 of loan cancellation. At UCLA, just over 40% of students who received financial aid or scholarships received Pell Grants in the 2019-2020 school year.
Anyone with federal loans taken out prior to July 1 can qualify for the debt forgiveness, said Avanidhar Subrahmanyam, professor of finance and chair in money and banking for the UCLA Anderson School of Management, in a written statement.
While borrowers will have until Dec. 31, 2023, to apply for forgiveness, the Department of Education recommends students complete an application for relief by Nov. 15. The application is expected to open in October, Appel said.
Biden promised a student loan forgiveness plan during his campaign, and his decision to implement it now could be influenced by the upcoming midterm elections in November, Subrahmanyam said in the statement.
“You saw a lot of that mixed emotion – kind of bittersweet, but it also reconnects people to the fight,” said Appel, who is also a co-founder of the Debt Collective, a debtors’ union advocating for the cancellation of student debt. “It’s possible now – you can get it all canceled, and we can make all formerly public college systems, like the University of California system, free again.”
Subrahmanyam said in the statement that even though the program enables people to better provide for themselves and their families in a challenging time, the announcement has faced criticism. The plan does not help those below the income threshold who already paid back their loans or those without college degrees, he added.
The program would help advance racial equity by benefitting many students of color, particularly Black student borrowers, according to a study by the Urban Institute. Black, Hispanic and American Indian undergraduate students were significantly more likely to be Pell Grant recipients – who will receive $20,000 in loan forgiveness – compared to white students in the 2015-2016 academic year.
However, Appel said a difference in wealth and income may leave some students of color behind. While income refers to yearly salary, wealth also includes assets and other investments, she said, adding that many Black students who attend graduate school and other specialized postgraduate programs have significantly high incomes and debt but low amounts of wealth. That leaves them out of Biden’s forgiveness program, she said.
“There are poor white people out there, but it’s disproportionately white families who have that kind of access to intergenerational wealth,” Appel said. “Black families, brown families, Indigenous families (are) much less likely to have access to that kind of money. So when you make college debt funded, you are, by definition, enlarging the racial wealth gap and the wealth gap in general.”
Claudia Horning, who graduated from UCLA in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in history and in 2014 with a master’s degree in library and information science, said she believes the program will help many of the students she attended graduate school with, although she initially did not think it forgave enough debt. Horning, now a librarian at UCLA, added that she supported Biden’s decision to remove interest on federal student loans as long as monthly payment requirements are met.
She also said she has trouble understanding why people who have paid off their loans are dismayed at the decision to forgive student debt, adding that rent and textbooks cost significantly more for students today in comparison to when she attended school in the 1990s.
“The situation is just completely different, and even adjusted for inflation, if people pay today what I paid in 1991, … it’s not comparable,” Horning added.
As an undergraduate, she said she worked around 15 to 20 hours a week, allowing her to take small loans she was able to pay off. She added that she sees how student loans constrict students’ freedom post-graduation to jobs they may not be interested in.
“They (students) spend years paying it off, and they’re still just paying off the interest,” she said. “They’re not even hitting the principal. And it’s been so frustrating because they worked so hard, and they do such great work and to see them just sort of barely keeping afloat.”