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Possibility of student loan debt forgiveness gets borrowers excited

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William Horton felt like he did all of the right things to get ready for college. He had an academic plan, started a warehouse job and eventually wanted to make it to law school.

Now, the third-year IUPUI student is looking at a 2023 graduation because of delays getting into the School of Social Work and confusion about class requirements. Horton has continued working full-time warehouse jobs — he just started his most recent one in Brownsburg — but the debt keeps piling up.

By the time he graduates, Horton, who’s from South Bend, estimates he’ll have up to $35,000 in student loan debt.

Horton is one of about 45 million people with student loan debt. Americans hold $1.7 trillion in debt, according to Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit that works with borrowers and advocates for policy changes.

Relief may be on the way, though, as President-elect Joe Biden has said he supports at least some student loan debt forgiveness.

Biden supports immediate action to forgive $10,000 of debt as part of an economic stimulus package, though Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren have said he should do $50,000.

Biden also supports forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which helps those who work for public schools, the military and other qualifying jobs.

The details of what debt forgiveness would look like aren’t clear, although it appears likely that any debt forgiveness plan from Biden’s administration would be means-tested, meaning some people inevitably will miss out on relief.

Plus, it’s not clear if Biden would rely on Congress — where a Republican-controlled Senate would be a likely roadblock — or if he would take executive action.

What’s clear is student loan debt forgiveness, whether partial or full, would be a big relief for millions of people.

“Every little bit counts,” Horton said.

For some, the prospect of a mass student loan debt forgiveness program reeks of a government handout to educated white people. After all, white people hold a majority of student loan debt, according to EducationData.org, which collects data about the U.S. education system, because white people are more likely to be in a position to go to college and take on that debt in the first place.

The details of student loan debt get more complicated with a closer look. EducationData.org also reports Black and African American college graduates owe an average of about $25,000 more in student loans than white college graduates.

In Marion County, the Urban Institute estimates nearly a quarter of student loan holders in “communities of color” are in default, compared to 14% for white people. Nationally, those numbers are 17% and 11%, respectively. The data does not include specific race categories.

Imhotep Adisa, co-founder and executive director of Kheprw Institute, said everything in the United States is impacted by racial inequity — from student loan debt to mortgages.

“It just makes good sense,” he said of forgiving student loan debt, “regardless of the unfortunate realities of race and gender and even class. All that being equal, it just makes sense to just wipe it off. Forgive everybody.”

Adisa’s son, Diop Adisa, has paid back most of his roughly $30,000 in student loan debt since graduating from IUPUI in 2011 but said it would be selfish to think just because he’s been paying means everyone else should have to, too.

Education should be free, Adisa said, because access to knowledge shouldn’t come with barriers. Biden has supported making public colleges and universities tuition-free for families with incomes below $125,000 a year, still short of a universal program and making it likely that at some point in the future, people will again have to beg their politicians for debt forgiveness.

“If we can’t separate education from capitalism, we will be right back at this crossroads,” Adisa said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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