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Easing the burden of student loans, amid all the other social programs

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Canceling debt would mostly help the debtors

Canceling student debt seems like a great way to help people; heck, I’d love to have my debts canceled too (“The Biden administration must cancel student loan debt,” Opinion, July 12). But does it really help?

Nathaniel Hendren, a professor of economics at Harvard and codirector of the institute Opportunity Insights, evaluated canceling student debt against a number of other social programs helping the economically disadvantaged for their return on investment and found that erasing this debt does not provide much of a benefit to the rest of society.

In a video discussing his research, Hendren said, “Student loan forgiveness could have a big benefit to individuals who have a lot of debt . . . but at the end of the day, the bang for the buck of those policies is not going to be anything close to the high bang for the bucks that we see” for other social safety net government policies.

Using a measure called the Marginal Value of Public Funds, Hendren and his coauthor, Ben Sprung-Keyser, analyzed the economic benefits of 133 government policies, seeking policy solutions that empower families to rise out of poverty and achieve better life outcomes. Erasing student debt is not one he would recommend.


We need to do the math before recommending that we forgive student loans. There are other proven ways to help the economically disadvantaged. Debt forgiveness is not one of them.

Lynn Miller

Los Angeles

Repayments have been suspended, but a big bill is coming due

The three July 12 opinion pieces — “The Biden administration must cancel student loan debt,” “A truly progressive student loan policy,” and “Low-income students need bold solutions to get to — and through — college” — took for granted that the current student loan system is functional. Frankly, it’s not.


Students have not had to pay for their federal loans since the beginning of the pandemic. This suspension of payments was meant to be short-term but has been extended several times and is likely to continue to be extended until Congress comes together to reform college finance.

The White House can deflect calls for debt forgiveness from those to the left of the president when no one is being compelled to repay their loans. But is the Biden administration willing to spend the political capital in a budget proposal already running in the trillions for hundreds of billions more in student debt forgiveness? That is still unknown.

The Department of Education must be worried that defaults will skyrocket if forbearance is ended. The longer students do not pay, the harder it will be for them to get back into the habit of making payments again. That portion of their budget is going to food, rent, and other necessities.

Great plans, such as all-out debt forgiveness, are often done in by changing realities. This may be the case for student debt reform, and in the months to come, the meter will still be ticking.

Bob Hildreth


The writer is cofounder of several nonprofits working on making college affordable for low-income students, including the Hildreth Institute.