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Timmy Sullivan

Executive director, Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts; 2020 University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate with $31,750 in student loans; Burlington resident

Timmy Sullivan
Timmy Sullivan

Student loan debt is a $1.6 trillion crisis that demands immediate remedy.

Since 2003, the number of Americans with student debt has more than doubled to about 44 million borrowers plagued with financial burden. This presents an enormous drain on our economy that prevents other forms of borrowing, funnels money out of local economies, and traps entire generations in a financial bind.

Further, the deleterious impact of student debt is unequally felt, landing along the existing fault lines of social inequalities. Student loan debt disproportionately impacts low-income and Black borrowers. For example, of the student population at public institutions who are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant – those coming from the lowest-income households – 84 percent graduate with student debt, compared with only 46 percent of non-Pell recipients, according to a study by the public policy organization Demos.

Additionally, owing to historic structural racism and the resulting racial wealth gap, Black families are more likely to rely on debt-based financing for higher education. Accounting for interest rates, this means Black borrowers may end up paying more for their education. Close to two-thirds of Black borrowers owe more than they initially borrowed when they entered college 12 years before, compared with less than one-third of white borrowers, Demos reported. Therefore, student debt cancellation is as much a racial justice policy as it is a bottom-up economic stimulus.


And, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought high unemployment and economic recession, it has never been more important to put money back in the hands of people. Fortunately, canceling student debt is extraordinarily simple. About 92 percent of all student debt is federally held. This means, under existing executive authority, the Biden-Harris administration can cancel nearly all student debt by a single executive order. The remaining 8 percent of privately held loans can be canceled via federal spending, as some lawmakers have already proposed.


Ultimately, considering the large number of Americans impacted by student debt as well as the expediency and simplicity of doing away with it, canceling the debt is an efficient way to deliver much-needed relief to tens of millions of Americans, reduce the racial wealth gap, and stimulate our economy.


Jordan Gys

Lowell resident; member, Massachusetts Young Republicans

Jordan Gys
Jordan GysDamon Francoise

During this past election year, we have heard the call from a number of prominent political candidates to forgive student loan debt. There is a laundry list of problems with this idea but several in particular stand out.

Admittedly a popular sentiment, especially among millennials who have seen the cost of a higher education skyrocket in their lifetimes, simply “forgiving student loan debt” not only sets a bad moral precedent but a bad policy precedent as well.

There is no denying that higher education in the United States is incredibly overpriced today. Yet even with the current inflated cost of a bachelor’s degree in this country, there is a simple reason why we have $1.7 trillion in student loan debt spread over 44 million people: Despite the high cost, borrowers are making a wise investment. College graduates in the United States make roughly 80 percent more than high school graduates so taking on student loan debt, depending on your major, is actually an intelligent decision, even if it takes years to pay it back.


I was saddled with student loan debt of my own. I paid it off based on my recognition that investing in college brought me a return that enabled me to eventually free myself of that obligation. If you were to cancel student loan debt — entirely or substantially — it would likely lead to the already high cost of a college education rising further. The reasoning is simple: Demand for higher education would go up since student borrowers would have the reasonable expectation of having their debts forgiven in the future. Therefore, the idea is actually a slippery slope.

I would also argue that student loan debt is not the crisis some of those who advocate canceling it would claim. In actuality, student loan debt only makes up about 11 percent of household debt, which does not seem excessive given the financial benefits that a college degree provides. Those benefits rise when one obtains a master’s degree. Rather than wiping out debt, a smarter solution would be to maintain the present obligations for borrowers, but to make the schedule of debt repayments more closely tied to their incomes.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.

This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.