Since taking office, the Biden Administration has approved over $9.5 billion of student loan relief — a significant, but still relatively small, percentage of the over $1.7 trillion worth of student loans that Americans still collectively owe.
On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden issued his support for some form of student loan forgiveness and since then, House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly urged Biden to "broadly" forgive up to $50,000 of federal debt through executive order during his first 100 days in office. Biden has repeatedly pushed back against these calls, stating that he will only support up to $10,000 of debt forgiveness and that he would prefer Congress craft the legislation.
On Tuesday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told Adam Harris, staff writer for The Atlantic, that the Biden Administration is still examining broad-based loan forgiveness.
"Student debt is largely an equity issue. Black student borrowers, for example, are more likely to take on student debt, more likely to take on more student debt and more likely to default on that debt. And [they are] more likely to have either left college or graduated without a degree," said Harris. "You mentioned that the administration is still sort of considering the executive authority that you all have on debt cancellation, what is this sort of state of that? And where do you see that conversation going?"
"We recognize that student debt is holding people back. And unfortunately, there are many who are in major debt that weren't even able to finish their degree, who do not have the means to remove that debt," responded Cardona. "So we're focused and it's a priority for me, and for President Biden to make sure that part of the conversation is examining loan forgiveness. Those conversations are continuing."
The sentiment that the conversation of student loan cancellation is still ongoing echoes statements Cardona has made in the past, including to CNBC earlier this month.
Cardona then pointed to the Department of Education's recent "overhaul" of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
The PSLF is "not working," he said. "98% of the students who applied, were denied. That's unacceptable. We need to do better. We need to make it simpler, so our hard-working educators, our hard-working nurses — we talk about thanking them, well let's thank them through good policy and good practice. Let's make sure that we're following through on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program that Congress wanted over 10 years ago."
The Education Secretary also mentioned the need to expand the Pell Grant, need-based grants given by the federal government to college students that do not have to be repaid.
"Let's make sure that when we're talking about how we're creating a path forward, we push and we pass the Pell grant increases of $1,800," said Cardona. "I talked to students who said 'I wouldn't be going to college if it weren't for the Pell Grant.'"
In April, The White House proposed increasing the Pell Grant by roughly $1,400 as part of the American Families Plan. And in June, the Department of Education proposed increasing the Pell Grant by an additional $400 in its fiscal year 2022 budget request. However, after months of debate and negotiations, the latest version of the Biden Administration's 10-year spending plan reportedly only includes a $500 boost to the maximum Pell grant, currently set at $6,495.
"We're going to be looking at all broad measures, including broad loan forgiveness, and what our options are," emphasized Cardona. "But we're not stopping there. We're going to improve the systems that we have in our control, to provide debt relief. And we're going to make sure we keep the borrower at the center of the conversation, keep the student at the center of the conversation. That's something that as a first-generation college student, I value."