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October 15, 2021
Credit : Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Forty-five million Americans are currently saddled with student loan debt—and Black, Brown, and low-income people are disproportionately impacted. We need President Biden to keep his campaign promise of broad-based student debt cancellation, but in order to end the student debt crisis for good, Congress must address the cost of college to ensure that the cycle of debt does not continue. 

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  • Nationally, there are huge attainment gaps between racial groups and economic classes.
  • Systemic racism and factors like generational poverty, redlining, racist banking policies, educational segregation, the racial wealth gap, and the school-to-prison pipeline mean that Black students are more likely to need to borrow, borrow more, take longer to pay off student loans, and face default.
  • A low-income student is four times less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than their wealthier peers.
  • Students with disabilities earn bachelor’s degrees at less than half the rate of adults without disabilities. 

People with a college degree are more likely to have higher-paying and better quality jobs, better benefits at those jobs, and the ability to access resources that positively impact their health and community. A college degree can be a ticket out of the cycle of poverty and into middle-class jobs—but only if that degree is accessible in the first place. 


Debt-free college legislation that accomplishes the following would truly transform higher education and go a long way towards making it accessible to everyone. These solutions must be made accessible to undocumented students, incarcerated students, and all who are traditionally excluded from most financial aid policy. 

  • Double the maximum Pell grant: nearly 7 million low- and middle-income students rely on Pell grants to attend college. The current maximum Pell Grant covers less than one-third of the cost of attending a four-year college. Exclude for-profit institutions from eligibility. 
  • Make community college and 4 years of college at public universities, MSIs, HBCUs, and Tribal Colleges free. 
  • Create federal-state funding partnerships, which would help undo years of state disinvestment in public higher education, a factor contributing to the student debt crisis. 
  • Cover the living expenses of students to prevent the need to take out loans and address the resource gaps that “tuition-only” legislation fails to consider. 
  • Address racial inequities in college affordability by investing in HBCUs and MSIs and expanding financial aid eligibility to DREAMers. 
  • Invest additional federal funds on evidence-based student success strategies to improve retention and completion rates.

Find additional resources in the Center for American Progress’ “6 Actions Congress Should Take on Higher Education in 2021.” The time for transformative college affordability legislation from Congress and broad-based debt cancellation from President Biden’s administration is now.

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