Pennsylvanians Must Demand Student Debt Cancellation

PA's higher ed faculty and coaches' union is calling on President Biden to cancel student debt. Your union can too!
student debt crisis
Image courtesy of Current Affairs.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and Universities Facilities (APSCUF), the union for faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Universities, approved a statement this month calling on President Biden to cancel all federally held student loan debt.

“Student debt is a Pennsylvania crisis,” APSCUF stated. 

The union pointed to decades of government underfunding as to why tuition costs have skyrocketed and the burden of higher education has been placed squarely on students’ backs – which disproportionately impacts women and people of color. 

“Student debt cancellation is possible,” APSCUF noted. “President Joe Biden has full executive authority to cancel all federal student debt using his powers of executive authority.” 

It really is that simple. President Biden can end student debt with the flick of a pen. 

Education shouldn’t be a debt sentence. But, it continues to be treated like one especially for poor, working class, Black and Brown students with the least ability to pay. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 2021 report “States Can Choose Better Path for Higher Education Funding in COVID-19 Recession,” data from 2018 reveals that the average net price at a public, four-year university is about 34 percent of the median household income. Mind you that is the median household income in PA. Then, if you break it down further you see that for the median Black household it is 56 percent – yes over half. And for a Hispanic household it is 48 percent. This is no accident, in fact, it is by design, a design that we can start to change by canceling student debt and making public higher education free.

There are more than 44 million students with loan debt, totaling more than $1.7 trillion. And this debt is something which disproportionately is held by women, as nearly two-thirds of all student debt is held by women, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW). 

The student debt crisis also reinforces the racial wealth gap. The Brookings Institute published a report last June titled “Student Loans, The Racial Wealth Divide, And Why We Need Full Student Debt Cancellation” that reveals, “regardless of the incomes they make after graduation, Black households carry more student debt … [and] patterns of intergenerational transfers contribute to nearly three-quarters of Black borrowers’ student loans having a higher balance today than they did originally.” In fact, “four years after graduation, the average Black college graduate owes $52,726, compared to $28,006 for the average white college graduate.”

As with public K-12 schools, public parks, and public libraries, public higher education should be treated truly as a public good. The idea of these things as public goods means there aren’t financial barriers in the way. However, when it comes to public higher education, we decide to force people to pay for this so-called public institution. Imagine asking a  first-grader to pay before they get in the door of their public school or asking a recent high school graduate to start paying for a loan taken out of the education they received. That is ridiculous and it is similarly ridiculous to ask over 44 million students to do the same.

Instead of fixing the crisis, President Biden just kicks the can down the road and strings borrowers along. Extension after extension and broken promise after broken promise. 

The broken campaign promise of cancellation of a minimum of $10,000 for every borrower. 

The broken promise of cancellation of debt for borrowers who earn up to $125,000 a year and who attended community college or four-year public colleges and universities. 

The broken promise of helping pay the debts for borrowers who attended private HBCUs or minority-serving institutions.

As the great abolitionist Fredrick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

President Biden won’t be following through on anything without the continued clear demand for justice starting with the flick of his pen. Join with the Debt Collective and others in continuing the call for the cancellation of ALL STUDENT DEBT because you are not a loan. You are not the loan you took out for an education, and you are not alone, as there are over 44 million debtors. We collectively can build power to ensure Biden picks up that pen.

Nick Marcil

Nick Marcil

Nick Marcil is a second year Graduate Student in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs at West Chester University. He is also a Co-Founder of PASSHE Defenders and member & organizer with the Debt Collective.

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