Before officially ending his campaign for president of the United States on April 8, Sen. Bernie Sanders promised on his campaign trail that, if he were elected, he would forgive all $1.6 trillion of outstanding college student debt and subsequently make college completely free.
“We have failed a generation of our young people,” said a statement on berniesanders.com. “You are not truly free when you graduate college with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt.”
In 2020, borrowers in California typically owe over $34,000 each in student loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In total, California borrows the most money of any state at $131 billion. Unfortunately, the new Californian college graduate in 2020 can expect an average income of about $63,000 a year, which is 12% below the national average, according to Indeed.com, a leading job-finding website.
Sanders said he believes forgiving student debt would give back exponentially to the economy and create more spenders, which means more cash flow.
Dr. Adele Harrison, professor of finance, said that although debt forgiveness could stimulate the economy, there are potential concerns with the policy.
“When you take out a student loan, you’re really borrowing from your neighbors,” Harrison said. “It is the taxpayers that are paying the interest while you’re in school, waiting for you to repay their money. The money doesn’t just come out of nowhere. There has to be some return to those people who said ‘I’m not going to spend money today; I’m choosing to invest in your education so that you can create a better tomorrow for the world.’”
Nathan Shea, sophomore civil engineering major, also said he could see the benefits of the plan but was afraid that debt forgiveness could mean hefty taxation.
“Even if he does forgive the debt, your taxes are going to go up elsewhere and you’re going to end up paying for it one way or another,” Shea said.
Timmy Tamashiro, freshman undeclared major, agrees with Shea in that debt forgiveness could be a good thing.
“I always like free stuff,” Tamashiro joked.
Landon Dacus, freshman film major, said he would welcome the move toward debt relief and cheaper college, but is skeptical that free college would be possible.
“I just don’t think free college is a reasonable goal to strive for,” Dacus said. “The world doesn’t operate on goodwill. I just don’t think it’s possible. It’s a pipe dream.”
Sanders is not the first to have proposed the idea of “free college.” Other presidential candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, have endorsed the project for years. Biden, however, has his own plan to solve student debt that involves more stringent debt forgiveness and a Pell Grant expansion.
President Donald J. Trump, on the other hand, has said he is focused on the needs of the taxpayers and is working to cancel existing student debt forgiveness programs, saying that it will benefit taxpayers.
Harrison said she wants more clarification from Sanders.
“I would challenge (Sanders) that he needs to be sure that he can explain to the group he is courting that will benefit that he has seriously thought how he is going to afford that and what is going to be given up in exchange,” Harrison said. “It is not going to be a net neutral response.”
As the presidential election draws closer and closer and student debt continues to skyrocket, the college-debt debate will continue to escalate. Meanwhile, young people with student debt look toward Sanders and other candidates to expand their vision on reducing the student loan burden, otherwise the idea of reducing the financial burden of college will remain a fantasy.