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Tusinski: Biden needs to better prioritize student debt

A rallygoer holds up a “Biden-Harris” sign while a rally leader speaks to the crowd gathered outside the Colorado State Capitol Nov. 7, 2020. (Lucy Morantz | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

President Joe Biden ran in the primaries as a moderate. Nearly all of his plans back then were compromises between the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and its moderate base.

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His plans to handle the student debt crisis and make college affordable were no exception. He didn’t want to make public colleges and universities free like Bernie Sanders, and he didn’t want to forgive all student debt like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He maintained that college should be affordable, not free. Once he won the Democratic nomination, his tune changed.

Biden moved to the left after he clinched the nomination, a concession to appeal to the progressives who were distrustful of his moderate beliefs. His official plans for American college students grew, adopting some of his progressive colleagues’ ideas.

Yet, despite this quiet shift, Biden’s plans won’t do enough to help students. That is, if he ever actually signs those plans into law.

Among other reforms, Biden’s new plans promise to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for Americans whose families make less than $125,000 a year. Biden pledged to make the first two years of community college free for “hard-working Americans.” He announced that students holding debt for more than 20 years would have that debt forgiven if they have been making payments along the way.

Now, let me be clear: These are good plans. His plan to make college tuition free for those making less than $125,000 a year will help the vast majority Americans. His plans to bolster community colleges will help make college more accessible to disenfranchised communities. The debt plan will help relieve debt for those who need the relief most.

Biden has got his priorities in the right place but still isn’t doing enough to help American students.

He quietly expresses support for the idea of erasing some student debt, albeit not through his own actions, asking Congress to take action rather than doing it himself.”

The largest issue with Biden’s plan is his reluctance to forgive federal student debt. Student loan debt is most Americans’ second largest debt, behind only mortgage debt, and is disproportionately affecting Millennials and Generation Z. Not to mention that his plans, if enacted, will help the current generation of college students, but won’t do much to ease the burdens of those who already got their degrees and haven’t hit the 20 year checkpoint.

It’s only week four of the Biden presidency, so it is possible there will be changes to the plan. But what Biden has already shown us is that he isn’t afraid to use the executive order to advance his goals. Biden signed 30 executive orders into law just within his first three days in office. They tackle a wide array of topics, from climate change to a mask mandate to reversing numerous Trump-era policies.

Yet, when it comes to student debt, Biden put down his executive pen. He deferred to Congress, asking them to pass legislation to ease debt rather than using his own executive power to do so.

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Instead, he subtly hints through wordy and vague policy plans he wants to make public colleges and universities tuition free. He quietly expresses support for the idea of erasing some student debt, albeit not through his own actions, asking Congress to take action rather than doing it himself.

While it’s not an entirely awful idea to go through the legislature, it signals that Biden isn’t prioritizing student debt like he should. It’s a well-known fact that our government is as gridlocked as ever, which makes any action on student debt very unlikely.

Two Joe Biden supporters stand on the steps to the Colorado State Capitol following the election of Joe Biden, Nov. 7, 2020. (Lucy Morantz | The Collegian)

Biden’s plans are good in their ambition, but execution feels lacking so far. Biden says he wants to fix our community colleges, create partnerships with local governments and higher education and provide more federal scholarships. Yet Biden has yet to take action on any of these items.

Despite the fact that Biden is working through a pandemic and reversing numerous Trump-era policies, the fact he wants to defer action on student debt to Congress rather than take executive action in the short-term future indicates less than ideal priorities.

Obviously, inaction is a bad thing. Nobody wants student debt. We all want to be able to get degrees, we all want other Americans to have better opportunities and we all want college to be more affordable. Biden has to take action to tackle that.

That being said, Biden’s presidency is still very, very young. There is still plenty of time for him to go about achieving his plans. Let’s hope for our own sake that Biden follows through on his promises.

Dylan Tusinski can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @unwashedtiedye.

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