A common phrase said to the millions of young people seeking higher education is that “university is a ladder of upward mobility”. Unfortunately, from trade school to college, that ladder sinks into a $1.7 trillion swamp of student debt.
But students are resisting the growing weight of this crisis. Students at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) recently joined the Student Debt Crisis Center (SDCC) as part of a burgeoning “Free the Degree” college outreach coalition. The student government unanimously passed legislation asking President Biden to forgive all federal student loan debt. Associated Students of UC Riverside (ASUCR), which represents more than 24,000 students, joined the Free the Degree coalition because of the economic benefits and moral imperative of debt forgiveness.
From the Great Recession of 2008 to the Covid pandemic, students’ political outlook has been shaped by major economic and health crises. In these two major events, the wealthy and well-connected were bailed out while working people were left behind. Throughout the pandemic, students have seen the federal government rush to pump $1 trillion on Wall Streetwhile President Biden has still not kept his promise to largely cancel student debt. Many current students, seeing the impending crisis, have set their sights on supporting the cancellation of federal loans.
The message from students is clear: now is the time to act immediately to end the student debt crisis once and for all. With 20 million students nationwide, there is immense potential for mass actions, well-coordinated events, and formal legislation from student organizations and student governments. In fact, while major cities like Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and others have passed resolutions calling for the cancellation of student debt, the Student Debt Crisis Center and student governments nationwide have worked to pass similar proposals at colleges across the country. In January, 111 student body leaders representing more than 1.4 million students across the country wrote a letter to President Biden urging him to use his executive power to cancel student debt. “We know that the burden of student debt is devastating to our economy and preventing a generation of young people from accumulating wealth, pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors and starting families,” said Ranen Miao, signatory of the letter and student body president at the University of Washington. in Saint Louis.
Asking the White House to cancel student debt is what students in Riverside and across the country need, and it’s ultimately good for the US economy. The strong background of UCR students in the middle and working class has made UCR a natural home for student debt forgiveness support. Since more than half of UCR’s undergraduate population are first-generation students, many of these students are especially overwhelmed with navigating the puzzle of student loans and their mountain of debt.
ASUCR Senator Christian Martinez has been a key player in writing and pushing the UCR student government to take action to cancel student debt. “I helped push student debt resolution through UCR’s student government because debt is something that strongly affects people like me. First-generation Hispanic college students are among those affected and I wanted to step in to try to change that,” Sen. Martinez said.
A college education is meant to serve as a tool to achieve generational wealth; now it acts like a debt sentence that disproportionately affects students of color and low-income students. Last year, the Roosevelt Institute found that canceling $50,000 in student debt would immediately increase the wealth of black Americans by 40%, dramatically narrowing the racial wealth gap in America. Canceling student debt offers President Biden an opportunity to promote racial equity, while increasing annual GDP by up to $108 billion a year.
A recent CNBC Poll found that 81% of student borrowers had to delay key life milestones, suggesting that this debt acts as an anchor holding 45 million Americans back. The past two years have shown that a world without student debt is possible. On March 13, 2020, President Trump implemented the Covid-19 loan payment pause for federal student loans. At the time payments were suspended, Pew Charitable Trusts found that 59% of borrowers were using money that would have been used to repay loans on necessary expenses such as food and rent. Now, with the end of the payment break on May 1, the economy stands to lose $85 billion of the national economy next year.
But the work of student leaders across the country on the issue of student debt gives cause for optimism. “Throughout history, students and youth have played a pivotal role in creating meaningful change in America,” said SDCC President Natalia Abrams. “Now is the time for students to band together and use their collective power and voice to demand change.”