By Austin Morris
To most young Americans, the collective outlook for the future is bleak. People born just twenty years ago have experienced a major recession and a global pandemic and have lived most of their lives during a war. They must watch, helpless, as the consequences of climate change destroy the inheritance that every other generation of people has been promised, but which now cannot be guaranteed.
Despite these glaring disadvantages, many young people still work, attend school, and try to take advantage of the same opportunities offered to previous generations. This often entails receiving a college education which, for many, seems to be the only path towards a meaningful and stable career. But for most students, a college education does not come cheap. Students across America accept thousands of dollars in loans, crippling their financial capabilities later in life. Loan repayments take away money that could otherwise be spent on a mortgage, starting a business, or making purchases that might stimulate the economy. To help ease this burden on young Americans, President Biden has proposed a program of student loan forgiveness, which stands to alleviate this burden for millions. The president is right to take this path, and we should be grateful for the boon this may provide our nation.
Throughout their public-school careers, most young Americans are constantly bombarded with rhetoric that encourages them toward college. Many in North Carolina will be required to sit through a PSAT or meet with a college advisor before graduation. Precious few resources are offered for those who seek to go another path.
Considering this, all the pressures of life, and the condition of the world, it is understandable why so many young people feel compelled to take on enormous amounts of debt to chase a decent life and avoid the stigma of not attending college. They have truly little power over the conditions of the world, they must simply try to exist within it.
To meet these demands set by society, students often take on substantial amounts of debt to receive an education. According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the amount of student debt in America totals over $1.6 trillion, with the average college graduate having $25,000 in debt. $1.6 trillion seems like an incomprehensible amount of money to most people, and many may be left wondering, “How could the amount of debt possibly be that high?” The reality of how that is possible comes into focus when one considers that, according to College Board, the price of education at a four-year college, public or private, has tripled since 1980. That tripling of the cost of college even considers inflation.
Federal aid, however, has not kept pace with the rising cost of college. Take for instance Pell Grants: grants meant to assist low-income college students to cover the cost of college. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in 1979 Pell Grants 79% of the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board. Today, the share has fallen to 29% of the cost of attending college. Society continually expects students to incur vast amounts of debt early in life for a fraction of the assistance and assurance offered to earlier generations.
To address these issues, President Biden has released a plan to alleviate the burden of student loans. This is President Biden’s plan, directly from WhiteHouse.gov, “The Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples). No high-income individual or high-income household – in the top 5% of incomes – will benefit from this action.” According to the Associated Press, 40 million Americans could benefit from President Biden’s plan.
Regardless of all these glaring inequities college students today face, after President Biden announced his plan, many have asked, “I didn’t take out the loan, why should I pay for it?” Once you get to the core of this question, you realize what is truly being asked is, “Why should I pay for something I don’t directly benefit from?” The answer to that being simple: you already do and do so quite often. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it best, noting that people who only use public transportation still pay for the upkeep of highways. Young people continue to pay Social Security tax, even though they will not benefit from the system for several years. The point is something does not have to directly benefit you to be a good thing. Most Americans would not argue that we had a duty to protect the most vulnerable among us with Social Security – most Americans would not argue that we should let roads fall into disrepair just because they do not use them. Being a member of society is not a zero-sum game - investments made in some will benefit all.
Millions of young people across the country are being crushed under the weight of student debt. It inhibits their ability to lead full lives, to be members of society, and to contribute. Rarely has so much been expected of a generation of people for so little prospect of a promising future. This is our chance to try to level the playing field. To give young Americans a shot at the promise former generations had. It is the right thing to do, and President Biden should be encouraged to go further.