My senior year of high school I applied to 12 colleges, four public and eight private. My top pick was Fordham University, a prestigious Jesuit school in the Bronx boasting alumni like Denzel Washington, Andrew Cuomo, Lana Del Rey and even former United States President Donald Trump. I toured Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, was accepted into their five-year Masters of Education track and was all set to accept my offer of enrollment — until I saw the bill. After aid and two merit scholarships, my annual out-of-state tuition, living expenses and fees would come to nearly 80,000 dollars.
Some think of a private-college education as such a worthwhile investment that they are willing to sink themselves into this kind of debt, even if they may be paying it off until retirement. But I want to teach elementary school, a career for which the median starting salary is $41,770, so a private school was simply unrealistic. Luckily, my 529 account had been built up enough to afford a degree from a public school in full, but I am well aware that I am in the minority of college students who will graduate without any loans. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank estimates the national amount owed in this category to be about $1.75 trillion — literally over a million million dollars. How did the United States, a country that is supposed to have one of the most accessible education systems in the world, get to this point and what on earth are we going to do about it?
Earlier this year, the Biden Administration announced a $379 billion plan to assist college graduates with their loans. Under the proposal, individuals who made less than $125,000 annually within the past two years will be eligible for up to $10,000 of debt cancellation. This number rises to $20,000 if the alum applied for a need-based Pell grant while in school. The White House is also offering full debt forgiveness to those who have worked in public service for at least a decade. It is expected that out of the 43 million Americans with federal student loans, about eight million will receive relief through this program. The application for eligible borrowers will open this month and be available until the end of next year.
Of course, the idea was not without its critics. Some fear that if prices are slashed at “frilly” colleges like the Ivies, public education will cease to exist. Will affordable schools like West Chester face declines in enrollment because students find a more exclusive degree appealing? How many seniors will pick Fordham over a state college now that money is no object? Others who worked hard to pay off their student loans before this proposal was announced demand reimbursement now that the younger generations are gaining accessibility. And many companies had previously offered partial student debt forgiveness as an incentive for potential employees. With the loss of this bargaining chip, they may struggle to find willing workers.
Because of these, and other, objections, borrowers whose debt lies with private lenders will now be excluded from applying for relief, as such companies make up a large part of economic infrastructure in many places.
Individuals may also decline debt cancellation considering it may be taxed in some states. However, schools themselves are beginning to step up to take responsibility as well. Instead of lowering acceptance rates to keep quality education private, many institutions are embracing the idea of making college more accessible. Princeton University recently announced free rides for students whose families make less than six figures annually, with other prestigious schools expected to follow suit soon.
At the end of the day, the problem of student debt lies in the ridiculously expensive costs of a college education. I will receive the same teaching certificate from West Chester as I would have from Fordham, but for less than half the cash. What accounts for the price gap between these schools? Why is a college degree now considered the bare minimum for the majority of American jobs, yet such a requirement may cost more than the salary it gets you? These are not questions I, nor anyone I know, have the answers to. But for low-income students who were unable to afford 95% of American colleges in 2020, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators thousands of once-locked doors have been opened.
Hannah Linkowsky is a second-year Early Grades Prep major with minors in Spanish, Dance Performance, and Civic + Professional Leadership. HL977843@wcupa.edu.