President Joe Biden has made the first bid in what will ultimately become a bidding war for the loyalty and votes of a small, but affluent and influential segment of voters: Student loan borrowers. Last week’s move is costly to taxpayers, unfair and regressive. But worst of all, it’s the beginning of what will ultimately be the nationalization of higher education in the U.S.
Start first with the proposal’s legality—or, rather, its lack of legality. Mr. Biden himself has publicly and repeatedly doubted his authority to cancel student debt unilaterally. When discussing student debt cancellation during a CNN town hall last year, Mr. Biden conceded that “I don’t think I have the authority to do it by signing with a pen.”
One year later, and facing the prospect of losing control of Congress in this November’s midterm elections, Mr. Biden has reversed himself, and now thinks he has the power to cancel debt on his own. This move comes after his administration proposed a unilateral extension of the pandemic-era moratorium on evictions that courts struck down and a vaccine mandate that suffered the same fate. For a president and a party that claims they are working to preserve democracy, Mr. Biden sure seems willing to embrace autocratic means to attain his objectives—when it suits him.
All this student “loan forgiveness” will come with a big price tag. One estimate suggests that providing $10,000 in canceled debt to borrowers will cost $300 billion over ten years. But adding on an additional $10,000 in cancelation for Pell Grant recipients will add significant amounts to that $300 billion sum.
Who will benefit from Mr. Biden’s unilateral spending spree? In short, wealthy families. The Penn-Wharton Budget Model believes that as much as three-quarters of the benefit will go to families in the top three income quintiles, while only 7-9% of the benefit will go towards the bottom 20% of borrowers.
Other studies demonstrate how student debt cancelation will help the elites in society. For instance, the Brookings Institution noted that households with graduate degrees—who comprise only 14% of the population—held more than half (56%) of all student debt as of 2019. Little surprise then that Brookings concluded that the top two income quintiles, including households earning over about $74,000 per year, “owe almost 60% of the outstanding education debt… make almost three-quarters of the payments,” and would benefit most from Mr. Biden’s cancelation plan.
But beyond its illegality, the hefty price tag, and its benefits to the affluent, the real cost of Mr. Biden’s actions will come in the future. This administration has sent a very clear, and very expensive, signal to students and universities alike: If the American public accumulates more student loan debt, this president, or a future president, will take action to cancel that debt and wipe the slate clean.
In that sense, Mr. Biden’s actions will last far beyond this year, and far beyond this administration. His decision doesn’t just represent a slap in the face to those who worked hard to pay off their student loans on time, or people who chose their college—or decided not to attend college—based solely on what they could afford at the time.
Mr. Biden’s decision will encourage all those contemplating a college education, or the colleges themselves, to act in risky manners—taking on more debt than they can afford, raising tuition, and not paying debt back. Students and schools alike now know that, if they increase the amount of student loan debt, politicians will face further pressure to provide additional “loan forgiveness” that both the students and the schools can capitalize upon, and benefit from.
Mr. Biden has publicly claimed that “I’m not a socialist.” But by taking this decision, Mr. Biden has effectively nationalized the entire higher education industry—putting it on a path where the federal government pays the bills for nearly every student at nearly every college.