Opinion | Remove the burden of student loan debt

Student loan debt discourages people from higher education. Biden must forgive every penny of it.

Evan Weidl, Opinions Columnist

Student loan debt is still one of the biggest financial strains on everyday Americans since costs of college started rising rapidly in the 1980s.

President Joe Biden announced that his administration would be canceling up to $10,000 in student loan debt for those making under $125,000 per year, and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients on Aug. 25.

While $10,000 is a good start, justice will only be served when every single penny of student loan debt is forgiven.

The weight student loan debt puts on everyday Americans is nothing short of catastrophic. According to the Education Data Initiative, over 43 million Americans hold student loan debt, combining for a whopping total of $1.7 trillion in debt — almost half of the annual revenue of the United States government.

This $1.7 trillion could go right back into our economy. Students are spending decades paying loans back instead of buying houses, cars, and other necessities.

The very existence of the debt is completely unnecessary. Tuition costs and student loan debt are at today’s high rates is because higher education is always going to be in high demand, not because they need to be that expensive.

For example, according to Forbes, the average cost of tuition, fees, room and board, has increased 180 percent since 1980, adjusted for inflation. In 1980, the average student graduated with $12,831 in debt. That number has skyrocketed over 40 years to $31,100 in 2021.

Many opponents of the new policy argue that it is not fair to those who already paid their loans to cancel the loans of everyone who still owes debt. It is unfair that they had to take those loans out and pay them back in the first place — but it is not a reason to not cancel the debt.

Just because past generations had to undergo this burden does not mean future generations should have to.

Additionally, interest rates make student loan debt significantly worse. According to Bankrate, federal student loans for undergraduates carry an interest rate of 4.99 percent. While this number may not come off as striking, 5 percent of the $28,950 that the average student loan borrower owes in debt is nearly $1,500.

Federal loans apply a 4.99 interest rate. But loans taken out from private companies can measure up to 13 percent. Over time, these percentages amount to huge totals, and students end up paying back amounts far more than they were loaned.

Students should not be punished for trying to pursue higher education. Saddling students with tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars of debt just for trying to get a good foundation for their careers is a glaring injustice.

This is an issue that greatly impacts the lives of many students at the University of Iowa. According to the Des Moines Register, UI students who took out loans graduated with an average of $26,200 for residents and about $34,880 for nonresidents.

To pay for the cancellation of all debt, the Biden administration should adopt the plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders during his 2020 presidential campaign. Sen. Sanders proposed a tax on Wall Street speculation. His plan puts a 0.5 percent tax on stock trades, as well as a 0.1 percent fee on bond trades, and a 0.005 percent fee on derivative trades.

These small taxes will generate over $2 trillion in revenue over the next ten years, which is more than enough to cover all the student debt in the nation.

Ultimately, student loan debt is a cruel, unnecessary challenge imposed on millions of Americans for no other reason than corporate profits, and the only way to correct this is to cancel every penny of student loan debt.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.