Why we need to address the student loan debt crisis (again)

Kevin Roberts, Contributor

Editor’s note: This column was submitted to the Texan by a member of the UT community. 

A few weeks ago, on Sept. 20, I, along with 33 other student leaders and activists, sent a letter calling on President Biden to cancel at least $50,000 in student loan debt. The signatories of the letter represent prominent organizations like student governments, college NAACPs and political organizations that advocate for students. Collectively, we represent over 757,000 students from campuses across the nation.

As the Speaker of the Assembly representing the student body in Student Government, I feel I have a moral obligation to join forces with our student leaders and activists to organize and pressure the Biden Administration to provide financial relief to students. This is why a few members of Student Government and I wrote a resolution joining along with other campuses urging the President to address this issue. 

This is not the first time the president  has attempted to cancel loan debt. Back in August of this year, President Biden canceled $10,000 for non-Pell Grant borrowers and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant borrowers in an effort to increase federal support for the high prices of higher education. While this alone is tremendously incredible, I still believe he can and should do more as, collectively, borrowers make up over $1.6 trillion in debt: This is unsustainable.

According to a 2020 report, the average amount of debt a UT graduate holds is around $22,149. When we consider the amount of debt our fellow out-of-state or international longhorns who pay more in tuition, we see that this debt relief clearly does not go far enough. Nonetheless, I still encourage everyone here to apply for federal aid relief. In its current structure, it has the potential to wipe out a substantial portion of debt for thousands of Longhorns. However, it is also important to recognize that broader relief is still needed. 

When Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds were distributed from the American Rescue Plan back during the worst of the pandemic in 2021, it had a tremendous positive impact here on campus. Much like that fund, providing cash to students is a good thing and broad student loan debt cancellation will lift the burden of debt incurred by Longhorns who didn’t fully benefit from the current plan. By canceling $50,000 in student loan debt, we have a real opportunity to close the wealth gap, expand educational opportunities and benefit communities that have historically been marginalized. 

As the late John F. Kennedy says, “If not us who? If not now, when?” This crisis affects past, present and future students gravely and much like other issues ranging from climate change to women rights, action is needed now. We as student leaders and activists are collectively resolved to step up to see that the student loan debt matter be addressed and will continue to advocate the best way we can to benefit not just fellow Longhorns, but everyone. 

Roberts is a government senior from Fort Worth, Texas.