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Top Issue Tuesday - The Student Debt Crisis

Contributed by Vicky Dinov, New Voters Communications Intern

2020 has been a year of many records, including a record high for student loan debt. For many youth, this statistic means taking out more loans with higher interest rates, and falling deeper into the student debt plagues our nation.

Student loan debt in 2020 is now $1.56 trillion. Yes, trillion. So how did we get here? The first thing to consider is that college is more expensive than ever before (more than tripling in cost since the late 1980s). Second, college is more important than ever before, forcing many students to go into debt to pay for a degree they hope will prove fruitful in the long run. Third, the youth are historically unreliable at the polls, so politicians neglect this topic in favor of other “more pressing” issues. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that 18- to- 29-year-old Americans owe a whopping $1.05 trillion in debt (primarily including student loans, but also counting auto loans and mortgage debt). To get a sense of the scope of how bad the crisis has gotten, here are a few key numbers.

Student Loan Statistics:

Total U.S. Borrowers With Student Loan Debt: 44.7 million (nearly 14 percent of the total U.S. population)

Average Student Loan Debt: $32,731

Median Student Loan Debt: $17,000

Average Student Debt from Public Schools: $25,550

Average Student Debt from Non-Profit Private Colleges: $32,300

Average Student Debt from For-Profit Private Colleges: $39,950

How COVID-19 is Impacting the Crisis

With the pandemic persisting, many students have been forced to decide whether they can handle the economic pressures of both the recession resulting from the pandemic and the student debt crisis. In response to these concerns, the government passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus that covered a six-month postponement for student debt repayments. House Democrats also moved to cancel $10,000 of student debt in response to the coronavirus pandemic (though this legislation has yet to pass the Senate).

How Youth Can Fix the Crisis

Vote! Politicians have been ignoring this crisis for decades now because they do not view student debt relief as an essential to their political campaigns. Youth voters, now more than ever, need to make sure they are voting for legislation that relieves the crisis, and attempts to fix the very broken educational relief system our country currently employs.

Here are some policies from legislatures that are trying to address the crisis:

  1. Beyond Tuition: a plan that aims to create a debt-free higher education. This plan was introduced by the Center for American Progress. The plan highlights that families will pay no more than they can reasonably pay out of pocket. All other additional expenses will be covered by institutional dollars.

  2. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ two plans introduced by the Department of Education: One would reduce the number of federal loan repayment programs to two plans — a plan that would cap repayments at 12.5 percent of income and a second plan which would offer forgiveness after 15 years. Betsy DeVos has another proposal that would cap how much parents and students can borrow from the government.

  3. Proposals by politicians such as Senator Brain Schatz (D-HI) who aims to create a tuition-free college, and similar proposals from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

  4. Free community college proposals from politicians such as Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA).

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