Photo credits: “A Protest Broke Out Under the Student Debt Finish Line!” by Geoff Livingston is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.jpg.
We, the West Chester University chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and Universities Faculties (APSCUF), call on President Joe Biden to cancel all federally-held student loan debt.
Student debt is a crisis. Student debt has reached nearly $1.75 Trillion, approximately 92% of which is federally held (US Department of Education, Office of Federal Student Aid). This Trillion dollar burden is shared by over 43 Million borrowers in the United States. The average federal student loan debt balance is $37,113 and the average public university student borrows $30,030 to attain a bachelor’s degree (Education Data Initiative). Student loan debt is preventing people from owning homes (Million Acres, 2021), getting married (Lendkey, 2020) and having children (Student Loan Planner, 2021).
Student debt is an educator crisis. Nearly half of all educators today are forced to take out loans to pay for college. The average educator from K-higher education now carries on average $58,700 in debt. Those with advanced and terminal degrees (such as faculty members) have loan debts far above that average, as 1 in 7 educators owe over $105,000 (NEA, 2021). In higher education, this burden disproportionately impacts adjunct faculty, who are routinely paid less, receive fewer benefits, are often excluded from eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and have less stable employment at their institutions.
Student debt is a Pennsylvania crisis. Pennsylvania graduates carry some of the highest student loan debt in the country. The average student loan debt for the graduating class of 2020 rose to $39, 375 — third highest in the nation. A full 64%t of Pennsylvania college graduates had student loan debt in 2020, (Institute for College Access & Success, 2021). Due to decades of defunding the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education as well as the Commonwealth’s community colleges, Pennsylvania students have borne the burden of these cuts via their student loans.
Student debt is a social justice crisis. Student debt cancellation is a gender equity issue, with 58% of all student loan debt belonging to women. Similarly this crisis greatly affects Black and Latinx college students who are the most likely to use federal loans to pay for school. A full 49.4% of Black students borrow to pay for school with 66% of them expressing regret at having taken out education loans that now seem “unpayable” and “not worth it.” Latinx borrowers report an average of more than $40,000 in student debt. Meanwhile, a third of Latinx students who took on debt didn’t graduate, compared to a fourth of white borrowers, leaving them with more debt and fewer means to pay it off.
With a massive teacher shortage in the Commonwealth, the burden of student loan debt also disproportionately impacts educators of color, who carry far more than their white colleagues. Over half of Black educators, for example, took out an average of $68,300 in loans and a full 1 in 5 owe more than $105,000 (NEA, 2021). Thus, student loan debt is an often-overlooked barrier to diversifying the U.S. teaching workforce in kindergarten through higher education.
Student debt cancellation is possible. President Joe Biden has full executive authority to cancel all federal student debt using his powers of executive order. Canceling student debt is a policy that has broad political and public support, especially here at West Chester University. It is a first, but necessary, step towards remedying the failures in public higher education funding of the past several decades.
In Pennsylvania, and here at West Chester University, canceling student loan debt would provide a huge benefit to the many WCU Alums with student debt, as a full 75% of 2020 WCU Graduates left with an average debt of $37,100 (TICAS). Cancellation would be an enormous economic opportunity for these former students to increase spending in our local communities and be freed of the limitations this debt places on their lives.
Submitted with unanimous approval of the APSCUF-WCU Executive Committee (approved March 29, 2022).