Student Loan Forgiveness: Former Education Secretary Calls on Biden To Make ‘College Debt-Free’

Michelle Obama, Washington, USA
Jacquelyn Martin/AP /

High-profile government figure John B. King, Jr., the education secretary under former President Barack Obama and current Maryland gubernatorial candidate, has publicly backed forgiving federal student loans.

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In an editorial that appeared on Business Insider and his website on Feb. 23, King wrote that President Joe Biden “should use his executive authority to unilaterally cancel student debt for each borrower,” and that “Congress must join President Biden in making college debt-free.”

King pointed to the 42 million Americans who currently hold more than $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt, which he called “indisputably a crisis.”

The crisis is not exactly new. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, student debt in the United States totaled more than $1.7 trillion, CNBC reported. About one-quarter of borrowers, roughly 10 million people, were estimated to be in delinquency or default.

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“All too often, the crushing weight of student debt prevents people from even considering buying a home, beginning a family, or starting a new business.,” King wrote.

He joins a growing chorus of lawmakers — from both sides of the political aisle — who favor some form of federal student loan forgiveness. These voices have grown louder in recent weeks as student loan borrowers approach the end of a payment pause that the U.S. government put in place in 2020, during the early days of the pandemic. The pause is scheduled to end May 1, after which borrowers must resume payments.

Related: 10 Ways To Pay Off Your Student Loans in One Year

Biden himself has looked into presidential powers to forgive student loans — including having the Education Department prepare a memo on the topic — but so far nothing official has come of it, CNBC noted.

Early last year, 80 members of the U.S. House and Senate were joined by 17 state attorneys general in urging Biden to cancel $50,000 in federal student debt for all borrowers.

Long before that, government officials warned of the heavy financial burden student debt puts on millions of Americans. Wayne Johnson, a senior student loan official under former President Donald Trump, resigned in 2019 after calling the student system “fundamentally broken” and voicing support for cancelling loans

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Not everyone supports the idea, however. Critics say cancelling debt would be unfair to borrowers who have already paid off their loans.

See: Child Tax Credit Refunds Won’t Be Seized From Borrowers With Past-Due Student Loans
Find: 4 of the Best Student Loan Refinance Companies

As for King, in addition to canceling student debt, he also supports fundamentally changing the whole system of paying for higher education in the United States, writing that “there must be a New Deal moment” to take even bolder actions.

“There should be a national commitment to debt-free college for students from low- and middle-income backgrounds, and truly affordable college for all,” King wrote. ” Furthermore, a traditional four-year college should not be the only option for students. Free community college, as the Biden Administration has proposed, is an absolute economic imperative.”

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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