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Some Oregon students say Biden’s loan forgiveness doesn’t go far enough

The University of Oregon's business school on Dec. 1, 2019.
Kaylee Domzalski
The University of Oregon's business school on Dec. 1, 2019.

The president plans to cancel up to $20,000 in federal student loans per eligible student.

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday a one-time cancellation of a portion of federal student loan debt. The new policy erases up to $20,000 for people who went to college on Pell Grants and $10,000 for those who didn’t — only if they’re making less than $125,000 per year.

Some Oregon students are appreciative of the move but think the president could have gone further.

According to data from Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, or HECC, graduates from Oregon’s public universities have roughly $21,000 in federal loan debt. At community colleges, former students owe about $13,000 on their federal loans. Overall, 31% of Oregon undergraduates have federal loans, according to the Oregon HECC.

“I am thrilled for the mobility and relief this decision will bring to student debt holders in Oregon and across the country,” Luda Isakharov, the University of Oregon’s student body president, said in a statement to OPB. “However, a one-time cancellation is the bare minimum in addressing the skyrocketing costs of a college education.”

Isakharov is from Oregon, and she said she chose to go to UO because the in-state tuition made it more affordable.

“But, a lot of my friends and peers come to Oregon for programs from out-of-state, and the costs are extremely burdensome, and as a result they have to take on extremely large amounts of loans,” she said. “I just wish we could all choose our college, universities and educational paths based on our passions and the best fit for us and not be restrained by burdensome costs.”

Oregon politicians reacted positively to Biden’s announcement Wednesday.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, put out statements Wednesday morning in support of the president’s action.

Bonamici called the announcement “the most far-reaching in a long list of actions taken by the Biden administration to support student borrowers, reform the federal student loan system, and make our nation’s colleges and universities more affordable.”

Wyden tweeted that the one-time loan forgiveness is great news for students who are forced to make decisions between paying off their loans and making ends meet. He said he’ll continue to push for student debt relief in the future.

Merkley said he applauds the action but views it as a “down payment” on the overall solution. He says he’ll pursue larger reforms, including affordable income-based repayment plans.

As enrollment has dropped at most of Oregon’s public higher education institutions during the pandemic, tuition has increased. The rising cost of higher education has made it much harder for students to graduate without substantial debt.

UO student body president Isakharov says she hopes Biden’s announcement will start a wider conversation about access and affordability for college.

“Forgiving loans is an amazing step, but I want to know what is next — both from the federal government, but also from the state of Oregon,” Isakharov said. “The systematic issues that force people to take out loans in the first place are continuing to raise tuition prices.”

Biden also announced he will extend the student loan pause one last time. It had been previously extended to Aug. 30, but Biden said it will now last through the end of this year.

This story may be updated.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.