Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Higher education and crushing debt go hand in hand; America's college students today have never known any different. According to Forbes, as of 2022, the monstrous student debt crisis in the United States has ballooned to a total of $1.75 trillion owed. This insurmountable fee builds the foundation of a great wall of debt, upending countless American students' livelihoods. Until this year, the American project of ending this financial nightmare has been grounded in radio silence. However, on Aug. 24, President Joe Biden announced unprecedented forgiveness of $10,000 of debt per federal borrower, with $20,000 forgiven for Pell Grant recipients.
In the classical American fashion, this compromise solution did not come without throes of anguish from our nation's elitist class. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), recipient of a forgiven $183,504 Paycheck Protection Program loan, castigated the "completely unfair" nature of eliminated debts for "Ivy League students." U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) railed against the "slacker baristas who wasted seven years in college studying completely useless things," lamenting how they may now "get off the bong for a minute and head down to the voting station." Notoriously lacking in this deluge of criticism is any commentary on the effects student loan forgiveness will have on the Americans straddled with debt. Speaking with students who will see this weight lifted from their shoulders, a much less doleful portrait is painted.
Rachel Derocher, a junior attending Rhode Island College to study business management, said she cried tears of joy upon hearing how she would have $10,000 in loans forgiven.
K. Ferragamo, who is also a junior at RIC and studies creative writing, conveyed solace for their friends and family with forgiven debts. "I want to see them thrive and not make compromises just because of their student debt," Ferragamo said. Both students expressed caution at the lack of a large-scale solution to the greater crisis, but elation towards the lifeline extended to those most struggling.
Conferring with today's students, recurring motifs are omnipresent. A future home in sight, a family, unburdened by financial chains, and yet an unease at the tamed but not slain financial beast. "Beast" may very well be an understatement, as the claws of student loan debt sink far deeper into the epoch of this generation than one may believe. Student debt is an economic bomb; it slows the growth of small businesses, stifles innovation and inhibits spending by consumers. Student loan debt is an issue of racial inequity; Black Americans carry disproportional amounts of financial debt, thus creating a greater strain on their future opportunities, resources and creditworthiness. Student debt is a mental health crisis; one in eight student debt holders with personal incomes under $50,000 have expressed suicidal ideation relating to said debt. Forgiveness provides these borrowers a reprieve from this oppressive cycle, but only a more permanent solution can break the cycle for good. To conceptualize this once inconceivable vision, one must look beyond the shores of the United States.
Many would be astonished to learn of the numerous countries that view higher education as a public necessity. For example, Germany is a popular precedent for a country that has accomplished the abolition of student debt – which was done not through a swipe of a pen and a subsequent economic collapse, but instead through a publicly funded vocational and college program emphasizing the growth of students' abilities. This has shaped Germany into an economic powerhouse of skilled workers with the world's fourth-largest GDP. Of course, Germany is not alone in this radical attack on student debt. Denmark and Finland both enjoy high standards of living, strong economies and free higher education for European Union based students. The systems in place within these countries are not without flaws, as lower-income students still balance food, living and transportation costs.
Nonetheless, they lay bare the effective blueprint that the United States may one day use to shed its national burden. Student loan forgiveness will ease the pains of millions of Americans and lay the groundwork for their future lives. Yet, with a strongly funded public education system buoyed with housing and transportation assistance to break down income barriers, the U.S. could very well become a shining beacon emerging from the darkness of the debt crisis.