Debt relief has public support, but will it be enough?

The political debate over whether President Biden should cancel some or all of the $ 1.7 trillion student loan currently owed to the federal government focuses on the role the government should play in making higher education affordable and accessible.

Although the debate is sharply divided within the party line in Congress, public perception has changed dramatically in recent years. Currently, one in five voters favors a broad-based cancellation. Young voters, of course, are external. With skyrocketing tuition rates, record inflation, stagnant wages and a growing need for college degrees, 71 percent of voters under the age of 34 support some form of debt cancellation, with the majority —56 percent — young Republican voters, according to a 2022 poll.

Higher attention to the federal role in higher education follows new, higher education experts, and a rapid shift in public opinion that the government needs to play a stronger role in meeting the cost of college for students. This change, following the expected economic gains associated with Biden’s forthcoming decision on student loans, could serve as a catalyst for a stronger federal role in tackling the college’s high costs.

“I think when we cancel the loan … [it] One way of government is that we as the government have made a mistake, we have made a mistake with the student loan, we are owning that mistake, we are canceling these loans. It is a recognition that student loans are not an effective way to pay for the advancement of higher education, “said Charlie Eaton, professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced.

How we got here

The shift in public opinion on the debt relief debate is largely due to a broader understanding of the impact of debt, the financial crisis in the face of a changing world economy, and recent changes in the federal government’s role in tackling the financial crisis, especially during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Since 2010, there has been a rapid shift in public opinion towards the government, taking on more responsibility for meeting the cost of higher education. Who should pay By Brian Powell, professor of sociology at Indiana University, and Natasha Quadlin, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“There are very few cases where public opinion has changed rapidly in such a short period of time,” Powell said.

The authors found that in 2010, an overwhelming majority of Americans – 80 percent – believed that it was primarily the responsibility of students and parents to pay for college. On the other hand, 27 percent believe that the cost of college should be a shared burden between the individual and the government. The authors note that this trend has been consistent since the 1980s.

However, between 2010 and 2015, some changes occurred: there was an 18 percent increase in public confidence that the government should play a role in paying students for college.

Powell noted that although many still believe that students and parents should have the primary responsibility for funding the college, the change demonstrates growing public support for a stronger federal role in helping students pay for the college.

“If any one of these questions about debt relief were asked in 2010, public opinion would oppose it outright,” Powell said. “People are moving towards the idea that the government should be held accountable or that the government should partner with parents and students. So that means at the moment people are accepting of the plan to make the college affordable. ”

According to Powell, the shift in public opinion can be attributed to a number of factors, including new pressures on the economy and the growing number of Americans who are realizing the value of college degrees, as well as the rising cost of higher education.

In addition, there is greater awareness among the public about education debt and the normalization of borrowing to be able to afford a college degree.

“Over the past decade, tuition has skyrocketed, wages have stagnated, and people’s perceptions of who owes have a double effect, because there are more people who are in debt and have to borrow,” said Braxton Brewington, a spokesman. For Debt Collective, he said, everything has had a great impact on pushing higher education to the national agenda.

Between 1993 and 2012, the number of students borrowing money and borrowing money to pay for college increased dramatically. A study by the Pew Research Center found that in 1993, 49 percent of students took out loans. By 2012, that number had risen to about 69 percent of students who borrowed money to pay for college.

According to federal data, one in five Americans has a student loan, but most borrowers have relatively low debt levels, with 53 percent of borrowers having less than $ 20,000 in federal student loans.

Younger Americans hold student loan debt unevenly than older Americans. Considering people aged 18 to 34, 57 percent had student loans, compared to 16 percent among those over 50. These young Americans have also experienced a nearly 40 percent increase in tuition costs at public four-year universities over the past decade. .

“Great publicity about student loans has made people much more aware. A large number of people are more receptive to the idea that you can’t rely on individuals alone, “Powell said.

According to Brewington, increasing public awareness of racial discrimination has also played a role in recent years.

For black borrowers, whose wealth acquisition is disproportionately lower than that of white borrowers, the impact of student loans is even more serious. A survey conducted in 2019 Journal of Consumer Affairs Student debt has been found to account for 3 to 7 percent of the ethnic wealth gap in 2016.

Recent measures by the federal government have raised public awareness of the economic implications of federal measures to address economic hardship.

Experts point out that the expansion of the federal government’s role in healthcare coverage after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 provides an example of how the federal government can address the costs Powell calls “bread-and-butter” problems such as health care. And education.

In addition, the Trump and Biden administrations have contributed to the widespread public support for the break in student loan payments and the universal distribution of stimulus checks to help reduce some of the financial burden caused by COVID-19, experts say. Significant are Biden’s recent moves on student loans – his administration has already canceled $ 18.5 billion in federal government debt – significant. These include changes to the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program and amnesty for people with permanent disabilities.

“We’ve got a preview of what a mass cancellation would look like by expanding the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and fixing some issues with it,” Eaton said.

The potential economic impact of debt forgiveness has also entered the national debate. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in May that student debt relief would benefit the economy, especially for low-income people.

“Student debt is a significant burden for many people, especially those with low incomes,” Yellen said. “[Student loan relief] It could be good for the economy. “

Although Biden’s final proposal is still unknown, according to the Department of Education’s 2021 data, the ত্র 10,000 debt relief per borrower, which was one of the President’s central campaign promises, could provide economic relief to more than 15 million people.

The political climate

The idea of ​​government responsibility informed the current debate in the Debt Relief Congress. However, it has been accompanied by intense polarization over the idea of ​​whether Biden could use executive power to clear the federal government’s debt.

While most Democrats support the notion that Biden has the power to cancel student loans, Republicans believe that such an executive body does not exist.

Republicans, despite disagreeing with the idea of ​​debt relief, believe that Biden will have to go through Congress to cancel the debt. Both congressional staff and higher education experts are expecting pushbacks from Republicans when Biden announces plans to tackle student debt. Meanwhile, a coalition of Republican senators has raised a bill that would ban Biden from canceling student loans. Experts say these efforts are likely to die due to the lack of a Republican majority in Congress.

In the eyes of the public, polarization and dysfunction in Congress could signal a general consensus that Biden should take action.

“I also think that Congress has something to do with the growing perception of unemployment. So I think it’s bound to be a claim or a biden to take action, “said Bruington.

Higher education experts believe that increased public awareness of student debt relief could push other issues related to the affordability of higher education to the national agenda, acting as a political catalyst that could increase the federal government’s role in covering higher education costs. This includes changes to the student loan system, which many higher education leaders have long called for.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of public relations and public relations, said: “Profits from debt forgiveness across the board will soon disappear, like water poured into the sand, unless we ask and answer some basic questions about the design of the federal student loan.” Subject to the American Council on Education.

Hartel said re-approval of the Higher Education Act, which largely manages the federal student loan system and has been historically amended regularly by Congress, has failed due to increased polarization in Congress, and as a result the law has not been updated since 2008.

“It’s less of a policy debate than a political issue,” Hartl said. “As long as it remains a political food fight, it will be difficult to discuss good public policies that will help students and be fair to taxpayers.”

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