President Biden announced student loan cancellation for millions of people this August, sending shockwaves around the country. The action, while being an important step for public higher education, doesn't go far enough. Public college should be free for all.
To understand this, look no further than the material conditions that many students find themselves in.
“My paychecks that are coming in, most of it goes toward school," Carlota Haro Haro, a sophomore art major, said. "So I’m over here telling my roommates, ‘I don’t get paid until Friday. Hopefully you can pitch in for toilet paper because we’re running out.’ Little things like that, or ‘I don’t have food, I ran out of food in my dorm.'"
This is an experience familiar to many college students in the U.S.– roughly one-third of them, in fact. Food insecurity is common on college campuses, and the experience of Haro Haro illustrates that those experiences happen at ASU.
She may be just one undergraduate student on campus– but if it is true that 35% of college students have had hunger impact their ability to study, as a study jointly conducted by Chegg, Swipe Out Hunger, and the Born This Way Foundation found, approximately 27,000 ASU students could have faced food insecurity in 2020.
The Biden administration’s decision to cancel some student loan debt will certainly help some borrowers, especially those with Pell Grants, but the move is not a long-term solution.
“I’ve barely started school. So I still have a lot more to pay off in the future. So that does worry me a little bit,” Haro Haro said.
Luckily, there is a solution that would make public higher education in the United States much more accessible. According to Brianna Westbrook, the Arizona Democratic Party Educational Coordinator and Arizona House of Representatives candidate, the solution is more than partial student loan debt cancellation.
“I think (Biden's plan) is great. I don’t think it goes far enough. I believe that we should cancel all student loan debt altogether and that education should be free to all of those who actively want to pursue a higher education,” Westbrook said.
Yes, it is that simple– we should make public college in the U.S. free. For Arizona specifically, that would do wonders. Not only would the average student loan borrower in Arizona see $35,396 worth of debt canceled, but they also wouldn’t have to continue paying tuition payments and other fees.
Haro Haro believes she would be more successful with what she is studying if she didn’t have to stress about paying for school.
"We’re young," she said. "I just got away from home, and obviously, a lot of people are in my position, trying our best.”
While the stories of students should be enough to inform us, take it from the Arizona Constitution which clearly states that, “the university and all other state educational institutions…shall be as nearly free as possible.”
That statement runs counter to the realities of going to ASU, and that is especially true for students who are a part of oppressed communities. Westbrook, herself a transgender woman, said that “I absolutely believe it would be beneficial to the LGBTQ community and trans community if it was free.”
According to the UCLA School of Law and the Point Foundation, 35% of LGBTQ adults age 18 to 40 hold federal student loans, in comparison to 23% of non-LGBTQ adults. Westbrook also said that student debt cancellation would reduce the racial wealth gap, which is a claim backed up by the Education Data Initiative.
On an even larger scale, student debt cancellation and free public college would serve as a defense against fascism and strengthen people’s ability to think critically about society.
“Uneducated societies are easier to manipulate, and we’re seeing a very strategic approach by the conservative right right now to take over school boards and defund public education as a whole. I think that’s one of the greatest threats to our democracy," Westbrook said.
Ronald Reagan understood this when he made strong moves against free public colleges and universities, as his education advisor warned that free college was building an “educated proletariat."
Student debt cancellation and free public college provide a three-pronged attack on problems at ASU and the broader U.S. public university community. They dramatically improve students’ material conditions, allowing them to focus on education instead of basic needs. They create a more inclusive, just world that treats education as a right, not a privilege. Finally, they serve as the roots of a democratic society.
We should all push ASU leaders and political figures to fight to make student debt cancellation and free public college the reality.
Edited by Sadie Buggle, Grace Copperthite, Sophia Balasubramanian and Kristen Apolline Castillo.
Aaron Stigile is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He previously wrote for The Defiant Movement and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also working toward a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Cross-Sector Leadership.