Cheyanne M. Daniels, The Hill, August 25, 2022
In 2016, South Side Chicago native James Alford proudly became the first in his family to graduate from college.
But that sense of pride was marred by student loans. When Alford graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in political science with a minor in Black studies, he was around $50,000 in debt.
Now, at 30, with his Master of Science in adult and higher education, that number is closer to $120,000.
Alford is one of millions of Black Americans who have been disproportionately impacted by the student loan crisis.
Black student loan borrowers hold the most debt out of any other racial group. An April report by PBS NewsHour found that, among 2016 graduates, nearly 40 percent of Black students graduated college with $30,000 or more in debt compared to only 29 percent of white students, 23 percent of Hispanic students and 18 percent of Asian students.
President Biden on Wednesday announced a plan to cancel up to $10,000 in student loans for Americans making less than $125,000 annually. But Alford, like many other Black Americans, had mixed emotions.
Some progressives praised Biden’s announcement; others, like those in the Congressional Black Caucus ,(CBC) called for more focus on the impact the crisis has had on Black borrowers.
“The burden of student loan debt has disproportionately impacted Black borrowers for far too long, leaving many stuck with thousands of dollars of debt, hindering their abilities to plan for the future and build intergenerational wealth,” said CBC Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) in a statement Wednesday.
She applauded the president’s decision, saying it will “provide much-needed relief to Black borrowers,” but added that the caucus would continue to “push additional reforms to ensure current and future borrowers are not subjected to this cycle of burdensome debt.”
Beatty’s is a sentiment shared by the NAACP.
For months, the NAACP has called on the Biden administration to cancel a “bare minimum” of $50,000 in student loan debt.
“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,” the NAACP said in a critical statement Tuesday.
“That goes to the president’s commitment to address the racial wealth gap,” Johnson told The Hill.
The Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) has also indicated the debt has exacerbated racial financial inequities.
“The first thing you have to understand is the fact that student debt is not only a direct reflection of systemic disparities we have in this country, but it also continues to perpetuate them,” said Kat Welbeck, director of advocacy and the civil rights counsel at the SBPC.
Part of what’s kept Black families from building “intergenerational wealth” like homeownership, Welbeck added, has been the continued need for Black families to seek more and more student loans.
This then forces families into taking out parent PLUS loans for their children, adding to their own debt.
That’s why 19-year-old college sophomore Nia Cloyd hasn’t taken out any loans yet, despite her tuition payments piling up. Her fear over debt repayment has her wondering if college is even the right choice for her anymore.
The concerns over debt repayment stopped Cloyd from going to her dream school. So when she heard about Biden’s loan forgiveness, she said it’s simply not enough for families like hers.
“The tuition that stopped me was $75,000 a year,” said Cloyd. Ten thousand dollars or even $20,000 is “still not enough equality” for Black families like hers, she added.
The NAACP plans to keep pushing the Department of Education to make it easier for borrowers to qualify for relief programs and make sure those who are working in the public sector — like teachers, law enforcement and firemen — will have an easier time qualifying for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.