Policymakers Must Fix Our Student Debt Crisis | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Cody Hounanian during a Newsweek podcast debate on student loan debt forgiveness. You can listen to the podcast here:

I think the big reason that we need broad student debt cancelation is because it is a crisis, and that's exactly what we call it. When you have something as big as a $1.7 trillion weight on the backs of Americans, they can't fully participate in the economy. The American Dream is out of reach. There's no Band-Aid measure to fix that. So we really need to wipe the slate clean. All the damage that's been caused over a few decades of terrible policies have left families across the countries carrying this debt. So broad-based debt cancelation is the bold solution that can wipe the slate clean. And obviously, it goes beyond just individual benefits. The entire economy, all of us in America, will benefit if we can really address this crisis with a bold solution.

University of Michigan campus in 2003
University of Michigan campus in 2003 Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

I think the racial equity piece of this debate cannot be ignored. There's actually a name for this new hesitation when it comes to government paying for degrees now that college is accessible to more people of color, and it's called "predatory inclusion." And what the idea is, that at a time when black and brown Americans finally have access to higher education—finally have access to that springboard that should get them into the middle class and beyond—we've increased the cost of college. We burdened them with student loan debt, and we've taken away all the benefits of that higher education for many of those people. So this student debt crisis couldn't come at a worse time for the people that need it most, and for the people that have been excluded from education historically.

I just want to touch on one other thing mentioned [in the podcast intro], the income piece, and I hope we'll get into this part in the discussion today. But income doesn't get to the heart of this crisis for black and brown Americans. The big problem is wealth. They do not have the generational wealth needed to sustain the student debt burden that they carry.

Cody Hounanian is executive director of the Student Debt Crisis Center.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.