Student debt crisis: a problem that needs a solution
The student loan debt crisis was one of the biggest issues in the 2020 election, as well as one of current President Biden’s key campaign promises. And for good reason, the student debt crisis has so far resulted in 43 million borrowers collectively owing around $1.6 trillion. Since 1970, average tuition in the state has increased by more than 2,000% in public and private schools, while average student loan debt has jumped an average of 317%.
In the past decade alone, tuition and fees have risen 44% at four-year private colleges and 55% at four-year public schools, where students have been hit harder, according to a GoBankingRates report.
In recognition of the student debt crisis, candidate Biden promised relief for those burdened with federal student debt and proposed to waive $10,000 per borrower and remove the total burden from those attending college and public and historically black universities. Unfortunately, as president, he has only managed to follow his predecessor’s lead and, under pressure, suspend student loan payments until May 1, 2022. Those millions of borrowers are struggling to pay their debt due to factors such as rising tuition fees and greater availability of federal loans, which is further compounded by sluggish wages and the economic crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic where millions of people have faced problems in addition to their debts, economic insecurity and housing instability. There has been pressure to cancel all student loans since Biden took office.
However, some argue that even canceling student debt will not end the cycle. While debt cancellation itself has been slow in progress over the past two years, many are also calling for another big move.
Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University, told Changing America that while public opinion on loan forgiveness varies, his research shows overwhelming support for free tuition. When thinking about college education prospects, one of the first things people consider is tuition fees, he added.
“If we’re thinking about the future, if we’re thinking about giving more Americans the opportunity to go to college, one of the first steps would be to make tuition affordable and free to the public,” said Powell, author of “Who Should Pay: Higher Education, Responsibility and the Public,” alongside Natasha Quadlin, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama tried unsuccessfully to waive tuition for the first two years of community college. Later presidential candidates Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders also supported the tuition-free university during their races. Now, with the current state of the student debt crisis, Democrats are pushing harder than ever to make community colleges federally free.
But is it really that easy? And how well do tuition-free programs actually work?
New York’s Excelsior Scholarship – the first statewide ‘free college’ initiative – had a ‘negligible’ effect on undergraduate enrollment in the state’s four-year colleges, Hieu finds. Nguyen, a researcher at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Nguyen examined enrollment at public and private higher education institutions to gauge how students are responding to the initiative, launched in 2017 with the goal of helping more New York residents go to college. He looked at full-time undergraduate enrollment in the fall semesters between 2010 and 2017. He finds that even though students were offered free tuition, there was no statistically significant change in inscriptions.
Nguyen says the program requirements may have discouraged some students from participating. “In addition to having to meet the state residency requirement to be eligible for the program, Excelsior recipients must stay and work within state boundaries for the same number of years for which they receive the financial aid,” he explains in the paper. “While this constraint may be construed as quite lax and reasonable by some, it may be viewed by others as too stringent, given that New York has a high average cost of living compared to other states and that Excelsior Scholars are only awarded up to $5,500 per year after all other aid resources have been exhausted.
He notes that the Excelsior scholarship is unlikely to change enrollment patterns for low-income students, whose tuition is often covered by other forms of financial aid such as federal Pell Grants. Nguyen also notes that the Excelsior program does not have a coaching component — unlike the Tennessee Promise program, which uses “community coaches” to help guide high school students toward graduation and immediately into college.
Student debt holders in the state of Massachusetts owe an average of $31,821 per borrower. Altogether, that’s over $35.9 billion. It is one of the most expensive states to get a college education. One of the most recent notable steps taken to support tuition-free community colleges was an additional $1 million in funding for the TFCC (The Tuition-Free Community College Program) under which students at Eligible low-income earners who graduated from high school in Boston may qualify for three years of free tuition at Bunker Hill Community College, MassBay Community College, or Roxbury Community College. As the battle for student loan forgiveness continues, initiatives like Boston’s Tuition-Free Community College program will improve academic performance, reduce student costs, and help address these issues upstream.
Tuition-free university initiatives have varied in their success from state to state. Although the bills in favor of it and the cancellation of all student debt have not been passed at the federal level, there is a clear need to make higher education financially accessible to millions of students across the country. . The strong support behind this initiative will surely lead to big changes in the way universities and the education of their students are funded.