Advocates call for Student Debt Forgiveness despite new pause on loan repayments

By Charlene Crowell

( – In recent days, student loans and other higher education programs have been the focus of multiple initiatives. On April 6, President Biden extended the current pause on federal loan repayment through August 31. That announcement brought obvious appeal to the 44 million consumers who together owe an estimated $1.7 trillion.

“I’m asking all student loan borrowers to work with the Department of Education to prepare for a return to repayment, look into Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and explore other options to lower their payments,” said President Biden.

Days earlier on March 28, the Biden Administration submitted to Congress its FY2023 budget proposal with a promise to “grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out”, including more funding for the Education Department’s higher education appropriations.

For example, an estimated 6.7 million students from low- and middle-income backgrounds eligible for Pell Grants would benefit from increasing maximum awards by $2,175 in the 2021-2022 academic year. Similarly, an increase of $752 million over the 2021 enacted level would enhance institutional capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs). Another $161 million for the Department’s Office for Civil Rights – a 23 percent increase compared to the 2021 enacted level – would strengthen the agency’s capacity to protect equal access to education through the enforcement of civil rights laws, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Increased higher education funding was predictably welcomed by HBCU stakeholders.

“[T]he request for the Pell Grant to be increased by $2,000 in the upcoming year is nothing short of landmark,” said Lodriguez V. Murray, United Negro College Fund (UNCF) senior vice president for public policy and government affairs. “If Congress follows through on President Biden’s UNCF supported request, it would be the largest single year increase to the Pell Grant, putting us on course to double the Pell Grant this decade, and be one of the biggest game-changers for low-to-moderate income students in our country in modern times.”

Also noting the importance of Pell Grants as the “primary vehicle to make college affordable” for 75 percent of HBCU students, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) that includes both publicly supported HBCUs – over 80 percent of all students attending HBCUs – and Predominantly-Black Institutions (PBIs) — also called upon Congress to support the request to double the maximum Pell Grant award.

“TMCF looks forward to working with Congressional leadership, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus to adopt these historic proposals for the betterment of our institutions and their students,” said Dr. Harry L. Williams, the organization’s President and CEO.

Yet other advocates raised other issues beyond annual budget appropriations.

“While we applaud the Administration for allowing borrowers who were in delinquency or default to receive a ‘fresh start’ on their repayment plans and reenter repayment in good standing, their debts remain the same,” noted Jaylon Herbin, Outreach and Policy Manager with the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). “Extending the payment pause once more is not enough to ensure financial fairness for the millions of Americans who were disproportionately affected by the burdens of the pandemic.”

Herbin’s reaction repeated CRL’s earlier calls for debt forgiveness as well as reforms to income-driven repayment (IDR). This same goal is also shared by other consumer advocates.

Months earlier CRL along with the Student Borrower Protection Center, and the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Division jointly issued a policy brief entitled, Restoring the Promise of Income-Driven Repayment: An IDR Waiver Program Proposal, that calls attention to the unmet need to correct key players and programs that also share responsibilities for the nation’s student debt dilemma.

“The historical failure of student loan servicers to keep low-income borrowers in over the long term presents an immediate policy problem,” states the brief. “Because of these failures, millions of borrowers remain trapped in the student loan system for decades on end. For many, their only prospect for relief is to begin again and spend additional decades awaiting debt cancellation as if they had just entered repayment.”

“[O]ut of a total of 4.4 million borrowers in repayment for more than two decades, fewer than 200 student loan borrowers will benefit from debt cancellation under IDR between 2020 and 2025—or a 1-in-23,000 chance,” the paper continues. “Borrowers also report that they have encountered an array of problems arising from servicer incompetence, including processing delays and extensive periods in administrative forbearance, inaccurate denials, lost payment histories, lost paperwork, and insufficient information or guidance. These barriers have profound and long-lasting implications for millions of families.”

In other words, to resolve unsustainable student debt, increased higher education funding must be matched by corrective efforts that hold loan servicers accountable, and finally makes true the promise to manage IDR as originally intended. Actions such as these would make real the dreams of a college education as the bridge to a middle-class life and financial independence. Without these reforms, higher education will continue to bring deepening debts and loan defaults.

“The Administration should provide student debt relief in the form of $50,000 in student loan cancellation per borrower, an amount that would eliminate or significantly reduce the debt burden for lower income, Black and Latino borrowers, provide a critical boost to the national economy and help bridge the racial wealth gap,” concluded Herbin.

Charlene Crowell is a senior fellow with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at

Newswire: College loan debt hits a Black students at HBCUs harder 87% favor cancellation; 90% for wealth inequity fix

NC A &T University and students

by Herbert L. White, Charlotte Post

Nearly 9 in 10 Black students attending historically Black colleges and universities favor debt cancellation, according to a study conducted by education and lending advocacy groups. 

Eighty-seven percent of respondents strongly support debt cancellation while more than 90% of Black borrowers support policies that address institutional funding disparities and family wealth gaps that leave Black HBCU graduates with higher student loan debt than their white peers, according to the survey and focus groups conducted by UNCF, the Durham-based Center for Responsible Lending and UNC Center for Community Capital.

A panel of stakeholders that included U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte; NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson; federal student aid senior advisor Ashley Harrington and Robert Stephens, policy director at Voices for Progress discussed findings of the study and research on a virtual forum. 

“The history of HBCUs is one of triumph over adversity. Our institutions have had to overcome historic underfunding compared to (predominantly white institutions), and they’ve endured the legacy of Jim Crow,” said Adams, a Democrat who is founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus. “Unfortunately, the student loan debt crisis also plays an outsized role in the lives of HBCU students, many of whom are the first in their family to fill out the FAFSA form. Families of color are more likely to borrow and to borrow more and in higher amounts to finance their education. While the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis impacts 44 million families nationwide, the burden falls heavily on Black students. That is why I support canceling burdensome debt for our students. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also good public policy.” 

The study, which was funded by Lumina Foundation, compared the financial experiences of current and former Black HBCU students with their Black peers at PWIs, as well as with their white peers.

Among the survey’s findings:

• Black colleges extended themselves to supporting their students during COVID-19. Thirty-one percent of Black students at HBCUs received emergency aid from school, compared to about 21% of Black students at PWIs and 18% of white students.

• Black borrowers receive and provide financial assistance from or to their families. Research found that HBCU students typically graduate with substantially higher debt than their peers at non-HBCUs, which suggests they share financial resources with their families during college, by both receiving financial support and by giving it, at times.

• Food insecurity is an issue on college campuses. Student borrowers report skipping meals because there wasn’t enough money for food, including 44% of Black students at HBCUs and 29% at PWIs.

• Black women receive less financial support from family during their college matriculation compared to Black men and tend to struggle more to repay debt.

• Black respondents report overwhelming support for $50,000 across-the-board student loan forgiveness. Eighty-five percent of Black borrowers indicated strong support for student loan cancellation and more than nine out of 10 respondents favor the elimination of interest payments for all student loans. They also back increasing state funding for HBCUs, increasing the amount of Pell Grant, and cancellation of debt for people who were defrauded by their schools.
“There is a large gap between how black students experience student debt vs. how the rest of the world understands student borrowers and their ability to get to repayment status,” said Nadrea Njoku, interim director at UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute. “Black students often need to use borrowed funds to help their families — not to just complete their educations as intended.  “This delays their ability to not only complete their degrees, but it creates a vicious cycle they may not escape from needing to work and help their families while at the same time needing to finish an education that would ultimately benefit them and their families.”

Joint policy recommendations by UNCF and CRL include wiping out student debt across the board; increasing federal funding for HBCUs; increasing the amount of the Pell Grant; improving income-driven repayment programs; reduce interest, eliminate interest capitalization and cancel origination fees on federal student loans.

“The recommendations made by the students included in this study help move the focus of college financing from getting a college education with an unwarranted lifetime financial burden that cripples students and their families to a place where students receive the freedoms and social mobility they were seeking from the start,” Njoku said. “These students come from underserved backgrounds and need to be at the forefront of the line to cancel the burdensome debt.”