[2/8/21] – Erasing Student Loan Debt

2020 saw a 4% rise in student loan debt bringing the running total to $1.7 trillion dollars. In the midst of global health, economic, political, and social upheaval, the debt attached to millions – almost 1 in every 8 – of Americans is becoming too much to carry. Although there are horror stories of people drowning in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, these borrowing students exist in the minority to the tune of around 6% of total borrowers. President Biden campaigned on a platform that recognized the severity of the student loan debt crisis and vowed to take action. This past week, he faced increasing pressured by many of his fellow political leaders (on both side of the aisle) to resolve this layer of the compounding crises we are living through right now. A plan emerged that would eliminate the debt for 80% of borrowers, and mostly women and people of color. $50,000 debt is slated to be removed from the ledgers of lenders forever…either through executive action or bipartisanship. In this week’s Lecture Spark, we explore the social problems associated with student loan debt, the social impact of debt forgiveness, and the commodification of education.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Erasing Student Loan Debt

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain how the erasure of student loan debt could affect American society.

LO2: Compare arguments for and against the erasure of student loan debt.

LO3: Discuss why treating education like a commodity creates a pathway for the normalization of student loan debt.


Democrats unveil plan to cancel $50,000 in federal student loans

Several Democrats are urging President Biden to forgive $50,000 in federal student loans. The measure would cost about $650 billion, and lawmakers say it would help the nation’s struggling economy. CBS News reporter Kate Smith joins CBSN’s Lana Zak to discuss the proposal, and how the White House is reacting to it.

How Biden Plans to Tackle the $1.6 Trillion Student Loan Debt | WSJ

More than 43 million Americans owe a collective $1.6 trillion in federal student loans. WSJ’s Josh Mitchell explains how President-elect Joe Biden plans to help borrowers tackle that debt. Photo illustration: Carlos Waters.

Why Do Students Have So Much Debt?

Going to college in America ain’t cheap with each semester costing thousands upon thousands of dollars. How do American students pay for this and how did the price tag get so high? Today, Danielle takes a dive into the student debt crisis and examines the good intentions that led to it.

Discussion Questions

Why do we need to pay for college in the United States? Why are we the only world power that requires college students to pay (often inflated) tuitions to achieve the “great equalizer” of a college degree? What parts of our culture operate to convince most Americans that spending trillions of dollars on defense every year as opposed to investing in equitable access to college?

Why might someone support the idea of student loan debt forgiveness? Why might someone be opposed to the idea of student loan forgiveness? How would the erasure of student loan debt affect society? What would be the economic impact of such sweeping debt relief? What about those who already paid their debt off…do they deserve reimbursement? Why or why not?

What social factors contribute to a person defaulting on paying their loans back? Why might women and people of color be among those who are most likely to be in default on their loans? What about American culture supports the idea that women and people of color deserve the penalties associated with going into default? How is this related to the myth of meritocracy?

Why has the cost of tuition for college risen to such exorbitant heights in the last 20 years? How has the value of the college a college degree changed over time? How does treating education like a commodity rationalize the existence of student loan debt? How is education different from other commodities like grains, oil, gold, and beef? How is it similar?

How might the erasure of student loan debt influence the racial wealth gap? What other measures are necessary to increase the wealth for millions of people of color in the United States? What other barriers might exist that could prohibit this progress? What elements of our culture need to change in order to accommodate a reimagined racial wealth stratification?


A sociologist using the _______ perspective would likely be interested in how the rising cost of college and student loan debt creates competition over access to education and the scarce resources associated with obtaining a college degree.

a. Functionalist
b. Conflict
c. Symbolic-Interactionist
d. Capitalist

The _______ refers to the existing division that highlights the disparate allocation of wealth among people of different races/ethnicities in the United States.

a. Racial Divide
b. Racist Earnings Policy
c. Racial Wealth Gap
d. Ethnocentrism

Media, education, peer groups and our family all contribute to the process of _______ that instills the justification and normalization of paying for college and the existence of social problems related to this reality.

a. Socialization
b. Parenthood
c. Rationalization
d. McDonaldization

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/bearsky23

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