Mere minutes after receiving my diploma I sat at my desk surrounded by my childhood knick-knacks in my bright-colored yellow room — yet another perk of graduating mid-pandemic — anxiously waiting for the student loan page to load. Fresh from online graduation, I had no time to soak in the triumph of starting a new chapter. The hard reality of looming student debt left no room for optimism. That’s a reality I hope few others have to experience and one President Biden is taking steps to fix.
On August 28, Biden made the historic announcement that millions of federal student loan borrowers will see up to $10,000 or $20,000 of their debt forgiven. This is a huge step forward for all student borrowers, including Black and brown students who are dispositionally affected by the student debt crisis. So many students of color, including myself, are told the only way to avoid poverty and achieve middle-class status is with a college education. Taking out loans is typically the only way we can do that.
College graduates in the United States owe an average of nearly $30,000 in student debt. It’s important that when we address the student debt crisis we take into consideration the racial wealth gap and intergenerational wealth transfers. Black and brown students typically use their new post-grad income to help their families. While research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that white households are more likely to receive wealth transfers from their family to help pay for things like buying their first home. Additionally, Black and African American college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than white college graduates and 67% of Hispanic and Latino student borrowers have educational debt. There is a racial aspect to this crisis we cannot ignore.
I, for example, a First-gen Latina, spent the last five years of my life making college decisions based on the amount of debt I was begrudgingly willing to get into. I started taking college classes my Junior year of high school through a community college hoping to gain enough credits to graduate from a four-year university in two years to cut tuition costs. As a child of immigrants, college wasn’t up for discussion.
My parents made the long and dangerous trek to the states with a couple of hundred dollars and a set of dreams. One of those dreams was that their kids would never have to face the same amount of economic and social uncertainty they had spent their whole lives navigating. My mom and dad lovingly spent most of our childhood reminding us that in a world where so much is taken for granted, our education is something no one can take away from us. Education, in their eyes, and now in mine was an opportunity to make something of myself —an opportunity that wasn’t granted to my parents who from a very young age were forced to work rather than attend school.
My parents risked so much so that I had a chance at a brighter future. Now as far as how I was going to pay for it — that was the unknown.
My parents worked tirelessly to save enough for the first semester, doing their best to avoid me taking on debt. As I saw the stress and concern overwhelm them I made the decision to significantly alter my financial future and take out student loans. This is a common situation across the country. Many freshly graduated students have been faced with having to choose between what would seem non-negotiable (like eating dinner) and making their payment due date.
Biden’s loan forgiveness program will change lives and leave families and individuals room for economic growth and freedom. Many people will even have their debt completely eliminated, especially if they were Pell Grant recipients as undergraduates. I can not explain the relief I experienced when this news came out. This has removed a huge burden that’s allowed me to take a step back and address the economic goals I’d like to achieve over the next few years — like saving for a house, helping my parents, or even attending grad school without undergrad debt.
This student debt relief will also impact future generations. My older sister excitedly echoed my thoughts as she realized her loan cancellation will allow her to save what she would have paid towards her loans for my niece’s first year of college next year. President Biden really did that.
Now, let’s talk about canceling all student debt.