February 19, 2024

Demonstration in front of the Washington Supreme Court to demand forgiveness of student debt
Demonstration in front of the Washington Supreme Court to demand forgiveness of student debt.Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

The United States Department of Education announced this Friday that it will forgive in the coming weeks 39,000 million dollars of university debt (34,750 million euros) to some 804,000 students whose debts are directly with the Government.

“For too long, borrowers have been the victims of a broken system that could not manage forgiveness,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is taking another historic step. By correcting those administrative failures of the past, we ensure that everyone receives the forgiveness they deserve, just as we have done for public officials, students who were defrauded by their colleges, and borrowers with permanent disabilities, including veterans. This Administration will not stop fighting to level the playing field for higher education.” In his two and a half years in office, Biden is already the president who has forgiven the most debt in history.

The announcement comes two weeks after the Supreme Court gave a setback to one of the flagship measures of his Administration, which forgave 43 million students 10,000 or 20,000 dollars (to the beneficiaries of the Pell Grant, a widespread federal program with loans) of the commitments made to complete their university studies, a custom to which many are pushed by a system that puts the search for profit before. The measure involved the cancellation of some 400,000 million dollars.

To do so, the Biden Administration relied on a provision of a post-9/11 law called HEROES. The gesture was one of the central arguments in the search for the young vote for the presidential re-election campaign in 2024. The Supreme Court ruled that a reduction of this magnitude was not admissible without going through Congress.

That was the latest ruling in a judicial course that has certified the turn to the right of the most conservative court in eight decades, whose nine judges also ended affirmative action on racial grounds in university admissions. That same day, Biden appeared at the White House to criticize the decision and to announce that he would pursue “new paths” to achieve his purpose. “My Administration’s student debt relief plan would have been the lifeline tens of millions of hard-working Americans needed as they tried to recover from a pandemic unprecedented in a century,” she said.

This Friday’s announcement, which affects Department of Education borrowers enrolled in plans whose payments depend on their income, is one such path. These plans provide for forgiveness after 20 or 25 years. Failures in the management of the companies managing these debts have made these charges more onerous, something that the new measure plans to correct.

Biden also announced that he will attempt to enact a different debt relief program under the Higher Education Act (1965), which gives the Secretary of Education the power to “commit, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or right of redemption.”

Since 1980, the total cost of four-year degrees at public and private universities has tripled, even accounting for inflation. According to an analysis by the Department of Education of a recent sample of college students, nearly one-third of borrowers are in default but lack a degree. Many of them were unable to complete their degree because the tuition fee was too high.

The next date marked on the calendar for payment due dates is early October. So ends a hiatus decreed during the pandemic. Until that moment arrives, and like a student waiting for their exam grades to come out, hundreds of thousands of former students are now waiting to receive notification in the coming weeks as to whether or not they can benefit from the new pardon.

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