UC expert analyzes President Biden's proposed student loan relief efforts


Millions of Americans with student loan debt could get relief, as President Biden is reportedly poised Wednesday to announce an extension of the grace period for student loan repayments until January and as much as $10,000 in forgiven student loan debt for some borrowers.

Biden's decision has been highly anticipated and a point of controversy as he works to deliver on a campaign promise to help students and recent graduates who are struggling to repay federal education loans.

"I think the cancellation is likely to be around $10,000 per borrower for folks who make less than $125,000 a year for an individual or less than $250,000 for a household," said Charlie Eaton, a UC Merced Assoc. Professor of Sociology who is also the author of "Bankers in the Ivory Tower: The Troubling Rise of Financiers in US Higher Education."  and an affiliate with the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley. 

An estimated 43 million Americans have student loan debts. Those who entered college or graduated in the past few years have faced big challenges, saddled with student loan debt and trying to find a job during the pandemic.

Brandon Oliver says he graduated from Oakland Tech High School and got a college degree from Howard University in 2020.

"I initially thought I'd graduate and have a full-time job right out the gate, and that didn't happen because I graduate in the middle of COVID," said Oliver, who says he has some $40,000 in student loan debt.

Oliver says he had to free-lance until he found a full-time job in April 2021. Now he lives in Washington D.C. and worries about how he is going to repay the loan.

Jerome Baker is a UC Berkeley Graduate Student in the College of Environmental Design. Baker says he repaid his undergraduate loans, but now faces debt for graduate school.

"It would be great honestly. It would take a big burden, a big boulder off a lot of people's shoulders. I'm hoping my loans qualify. They're new," said Baker.

"I know some kids, people in my high school are working around 3 jobs to make up for what their parents are losing," said Kiana George, a UC Berkeley first-year student.

Some Republicans say the student loan forgiveness could cost an estimated $300 billion, according to an analysis done at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton Business School. 

NAACP President Derrick Johnson also criticized the amount of forgiveness and stated in a social media post that $10,000 doesn't go far enough.

"If student debt repayments can be paused over and over and over again, there's no reason why the President cannot cancel a minimum of $50,000," Johnson stated in a post on Twitter. 

"We're talking about 45 million people with federal student loans who could be eligible for the executive order," said Eaton, "My colleagues and I have estimated that the $10,000 in cancelation will completly wipe out student debt for 13-15 million student loan borrowers."

"It's hard. Pretty much all my friends have loans whether undergrad or graduate school," said Thomas Saenz, an incoming Berkeley Law School student, "Law school, it's about $200,000-300,000 in debt potentially."

"$10,000 is definitely a great help," said Oliver. "But it's not enough to cover the whole thing."

"Using student debt to pay for college is something that we didn't really do in this country until the 1990s," said Eaton, "Part of what the pandemic did was it made it clear that student debt is not the best way to pay for college. It's extremely unfair and unequal along lines of race and class."

Eaton says it's important for people to know that there are other loan forgiveness options.

"If you are a public servant... You are eligible for public service loan forgiveness that can cancel your entire debt in ten years," said Eaton, adding that government workers and public school teachers are among those eligible.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@fox.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.