After the Cap and Gown: Why President Biden Should Cancel at Least $50,000 of Student Loan Debt Now

It’s graduation season, which means your timelines are probably already flooded with pictures and videos of happy college graduates in their cap and gowns and optimistic commencement speeches about how the “future is yours.” While graduating college is of course no small feat and should be celebrated, we can’t lose sight of the impending reality for most new graduates: in three short months, they, along with millions of other borrowers are set to start paying off student loans, unless President Biden takes executive action to cancel student loan debt.  

I paint this picture of happy graduates with one caveat: the majority of student loan borrowers did not graduate college. They are now bearing the brunt of paying off loans without the benefits of the salary boost that comes with having a college degree. These are the people working multiple jobs, supporting their families, serving YOU with a smile, all with thousands of dollars of debt stopping them from living their lives fully and without fear.  

Since the start of the pandemic, student loan debt has been paused: meaning for over two years, folks with debt have been able to provide for themselves and their families with a little less stress and maybe even with the ability to invest in themselves. This is particularly significant for Black and Latinx families, who have been systematically prevented from accessing and accumulating wealth. Student loans perpetuate a system in the United States ordered by race and gender. To truly desegregate our country, there needs to be some relief from student loans. 

Here are some quick facts you should know about student debt:  

  • There are over 40 million Americans who owe a collective $1.76 trillion in student debt. 
  • Women make up two-thirds of all borrowers, the majority being Black and Latina women. 
  • The current racial and gender wage gap means that for these women, who are already making less than their white male counterparts, it is even harder to pay off their debt.  
  • A large majority of Americans have expressed support for providing some student loan debt cancellation. 
  • Over the past few decades, the cost of college has risen by 103% while household income has only increased by 14% and policy decisions have made student loans easier to obtain (meaning that the conservative talking point that debt cancellation wouldn’t be fair to past borrowers does not hold up).  
  • President Biden could cancel federal student loans all on his own (no 50 senators, no filibuster, all POTUS). 

The moral of the story is that student loan debt perpetuates the racial and gender wealth gap, and President Biden has the legal authority to end this crisis with the stroke of a pen. Canceling $10,000 per person is not enough when women on average owe over $30,000 and women of color upwards of $37,000 in student loans.  

Racial equality needs to be at the forefront of policymaking—and canceling $50,000 of student loan debt, especially for women of color, would be a great place for President Biden to start.