Ala. higher education leader supports loan forgiveness; others react

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 7:48 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - President Joe Biden’s plan to erase anywhere from $10,000-$20,000 in student loan debt for millions of Americans has left many college students in Alabama hopeful.

“I took out a loan when COVID started, and that would help out a lot,” said Joshua Jenkins, a senior at Auburn University at Montgomery. “Things are a lot more expensive nowadays, so I’m sure this would help out a lot of people.”

“You’re coming here to get your education to further your life and better yourself for your career, it’s not good to start in a hole, start in debt,” said AUM junior Chesney Kelley.

Under Biden’s plan, borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year, or families earning less than $250,000, would be eligible for the $10,000 loan forgiveness. For recipients of Pell Grants, the federal government would cancel up to an additional $10,000 in federal loan debt. The White House also announced a final extension to the pause on student loan payments until the end of this year.

According to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, 51% of Alabama graduates have student loan debt. The average debt owed is about $36,000 per person.

“We know that over a lifetime there is $1 million between somebody with a high school diploma and a bachelor’s, but the problem is if you have all this debt and you’re paying that off for 10 or 20 years, it really does impact your ability to do the things you really want to do when you become an adult,” said Jim Purcell, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

Purcell said under Biden’s plan, about 191,000 borrowers in Alabama would qualify for the $10,000 forgiven, and about 124,000 Pell Grant recipients would qualify for the upwards of $20,000 forgiven. Together, this adds up to be about $2.8 billion in student loan debt forgiven across the state.

“We do believe this will have a great impact for Alabama. Not only for the individual, but for our economy,” Purcell said. “These individuals would no longer have to pay that obligation and perhaps would be looking for other things to spend it on.”

Purcell said it’s important for students to recognize that debts must be paid. He says this forgiveness is unprecedented.

“I don’t think it would have been a conversation that have would been taken into action unless we had the pandemic,” Purcell said.

Biden’s plan has proven controversial politically, with those in support arguing that more forgiveness is needed. Those opposed say this unfairly burdens taxpayers who did not go to college and those who have already paid off their student loans. Opponents also says this would worsen inflation.

Several of Alabama’s politicians also weighed in following Biden’s announcement. Many of the state’s Republican lawmakers expressed disapproval.

In an interview with WSFA 12 News, U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville described Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan as a “bad example.” He also tweeted his disapproval.

Other lawmakers shared their opinions on Twitter.

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt sent this statement: “In the unending string of reckless policies put forth by the Biden Administration, the student loan forgiveness serves as the latest installment. Biden is catering to the radical left to appease his base which, according to recent polls, does not approve of his performance in the White House.

“The cost of this policy is only the newest burden that will be shifted onto taxpayers that have no stake in it. It’s simply unfair to those who have been to college and paid off their loans; an agreement they understood when choosing to pursue higher education. I fear this policy will lead to new students borrowing more and more money from the government with the expectation that the taxpayer will pick up the bill down the road.”

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, Alabama’s sole Democratic federal representative, sent a statement praising the move: “A good education should be a ticket to the middle class, but across the nation, the soaring cost of college has made it near impossible for many Alabamians to pursue the American dream.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news for so many Alabamians who are being crushed by student loan debt. This targeted economic relief will provide peace of mind for those who need it most. I’m grateful to have a President who follows through on his promises and looks out for the needs of our students and working families.”

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