U.S. student debt has ballooned for decades, but this year, legislators have been more vocal about student debt forgiveness than ever before.
House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly urged President Biden to "broadly" forgive up to $50,000 of federal debt through executive order, an approach Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has reiterated Biden should take during his first 100 days in office.
The Biden administration has suggested that the President will call on Congress to forgive $10,000 in student debt for all borrowers — a step down from what leaders of his own party have called for, but still a popular proposal. A January Morning Consult survey found that 56% of all U.S. adults and 62% of Generation Z (which disproportionately voted for Biden) support $10,000 in federal student loan forgiveness.
But faith that student debt forgiveness will happen appears to be low.
A recent survey of 3,649 current college students by study guide platform OneClass found that just 13% of students expect to see a student debt forgiveness policy implemented by the new administration.
"Student loan forgiveness was one of the most important issues for voters in the past presidential election. In previous years there have been many promises made by politicians from both parties about how to handle this issue. With colleges costs continuing to climb, even throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that 87% of our community respondents think loan forgiveness won't happen or was simply a tool to use for votes," says Richard DeCapua, vice president of academic affairs for OneClass.
"The federal government has had a disappointing track record for providing relief to student borrowers under the previous administration. While there are influential Democrats calling for loan forgiveness, students at large, still do not believe this relief will be in the near future."
There are serious questions as to whether legislators will actually pass student debt forgiveness.
"Generally, Democrats support loan forgiveness while Republicans do not," says higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz. "President Biden will likely wait until late summer or early fall to propose student loan forgiveness legislation, to avoid having it interfere with legislative proposals for which there is common ground. A proposal for $10,000 in student loan forgiveness might get some Republican support because it is modest in cost."
Even former President Donald Trump warmed to student debt forgiveness during his unsuccessful reelection campaign. But without broad bipartisan support, many believe that the most likely way student debt relief would be enacted is through executive action.
"I would like to see the Biden admin do this administratively – they have a crowded legislative agenda and this is one of the things they can do with executive power," says Josh Bivens, economist and director of research at the Economic Policy Institute. "So, anything they can do themselves and de-clutter the legislative bottleneck is something I think they should do."
"These ideas of student loan forgiveness and tuition-free college seemed out of reach years ago, but they're definitely becoming more and more part of the national conversation," says Rebecca Safier, a student loan expert at student-loan management site Student Loan Hero. "I can certainly see it happening."
"But it remains to be seen."