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Martin Center column explores Biden’s potential impact on higher ed

Ross Marchand writes for the Martin Center about the new president’s approach to higher education policy.

Now that President Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president, he wants to hit the ground running and attend to urgent priorities. One of his first moves was to extend student loan payment deferrals until October, buying time for further reforms to America’s higher education system.

Deferrals will be one small part of a larger strategy to shift higher education costs away from borrowers and toward taxpayers, regardless of cost and consequences. Rather than creating a bank-breaking new strategy to subsidize (predominately) well-off graduates, President Biden should offer low-income students better alternatives to the broken status quo.

Millions of lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.

President Biden has been clear that suspending loan payments and interest is just the beginning of a large-scale shift in how higher education is financed. On the campaign trail, Biden took a page out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ playbook and proposed $10,000 in student debt forgiveness for all borrowers. That sounds nice until you consider that the poorest 25 percent of households (families earning less than $27,000) hold less than 15 percent of all higher education debt. Six-figure households in the top 25 percent hold the most of all student debt (34 percent), followed by the next-highest quartile at 29 percent.

In other words, the majority of gains from any student loan forgiveness program would accrue to richer Americans in a better position than their peers to pay off their IOUs.

Biden also wants to make loan programs more generous for current and future students. These policies would create even more unintended consequences. Colleges tend to respond opportunistically to more federal subsidies by raising tuition prices, capturing gains that would otherwise go to students. …

… While fans of humble government have found much in Biden’s vision for higher education to be critical of, he has an opportunity to reform the system and help struggling students instead of doubling down on the failed status quo.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...