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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Essay: Whether it’s imperfect or executive overreach, students like me need debt relief

While President Joe Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness plan stalls in litigation due to claims of executive overreach, college students like me can’t afford to wait for relief.

Biden announced his plan in August to relieve up to $20,000 in debt per borrower by the end of 2022. But in November, six states – Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina – asked the Supreme Court to block the plan, which they argue is an abuse of executive authority. The Supreme Court’s review of the plan has halted debt cancellation for millions of students and graduates just before they received their checks, leaving Americans like me anxiously anticipating my financial future.

College is an investment, but the debt that comes with loans is a nightmare for college students, especially when it’s unavoidable for most of us who enroll. About 43.5 million people are in student loan debt in the United States, where total unpaid loans piled up to about $1.757 trillion by the end of 2022.

As a low-income student, financial aid was a major part of my decision-making process for selecting which college I would attend. While I was ecstatic about getting into the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley, the prospect of attending a private institution like GW actually turned out to be less expensive. The financial aid packages from UCLA and UC Berkeley would require me to take out roughly $15,000 and $20,000 of respective loans per year to attend.

When I gained admission to GW, it wasn’t the letter of acceptance that made me cry but the financial aid package they were offering. College finally seemed like a very real possibility. It wasn’t a full ride, but I would not have to take out $20,000 in loans each school year thanks to the scholarships I received. I ended up taking out $10,000 for my freshman year, making it financially possible to attend college.

I most likely would not have attended a four-year university if not for GW’s financial aid package. After my mother’s death, there were many other financial priorities – car payments, utilities, taxes – that demanded my attention more than school. I was scared I would have to take out more loans and end up in debt if I went to college when there were other major expenses in my life.

Higher education has become a lot more expensive than it used to be, especially in the United States where tuition is twice as high as the world average. The average college tuition in the 2000s for a four-year public university was around $5,088. Today, that would be around $9,349.

But this is even happening at our own University. GW has raised next year’s tuition by 4.2 percent from $62,110 to $64,700, its highest-ever price, as the cost of attendance exceeds $86,500. I will have to take out at least another $5,000 in federal loans next semester to keep attending the University – so much for the $15,000 a year in debt I tried running away from when I rejected UCLA and UC Berkeley. So whenever I complain about school, I remind myself that I might not always be financially able to attend GW.

My family members have had to stretch their dollars further because of the rising prices, making it more difficult for them to contribute to my education – let alone set aside money for future student loan payments when they resume this summer. We have had to budget more and sometimes only partially pay bills and utilities. Even though inflation has eased from a high of 9.1 percent in June 2022 to 6 percent in February, food and goods are still more expensive than they were before the pandemic, eating into workers’ wages. And it doesn’t help when 32 states cut pandemic-related Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits earlier this month, forcing families like mine to pay more out of pocket for groceries.

The Supreme Court will likely decide the case concerning Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan in June. If it rules in favor of Biden and forgives $10,000 to $20,000 of debt, borrowers would not have to work so much or so often as right now. Students like me have every moment of their day scheduled between working and studying. While Biden won’t eliminate all debt – and debt forgiveness won’t make inflation go away – his plan will give people the chance to become more financially stable in the future. Instead of keeping up with debt payments, they could be saving for a bigger apartment or a car.

If the Supreme Court rejects Biden’s plan, we will be sentenced to a life of constant debt and financial instability – nothing would change despite the initial promise of forgiven debt. For many low-income students, college has been the way to close the economic inequality gap and make things a little bit fairer. College degrees would enable us to save more money, invest, release some financial stress and even build generational wealth. Now, people are skeptical about whether a college degree is even worth it. With everything becoming more expensive, the middle and working classes need help to keep up financially. If they don’t get that help – if their debt isn’t forgiven – students from lower-income families won’t better their lives when going to college leads them to financial ruin.

Whether the current plan for student debt forgiveness is imperfect or executive overreach, it just needs to happen one way or another. Students and graduates feel suffocated because of their loans, especially in a world where it feels like even breathing is expensive. Student debt relief would be just that – a breath of financial relief.

Andrea Mendoza-Melchor, a freshman majoring in journalism and mass communication, is an opinions writer.

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