Two University of Richmond students co-wrote a petition calling on the Joe Biden administration to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower for all students.
Senior Anthony Polcari, the Richmond College Student Government Association president, spearheaded the petition, which was launched in early February and had 233 student signatures as of Feb. 20.
"We believe that using executive action is the best way to approach this cause because it will allow for millions of students to have immediate access to relief and because we do not feel that legislation on student debt would be able to pass through congress given its current make up," the petition says.
Polcari has seen many students negatively impacted by the U.S.'s $1.6 trillion student debt crisis, he said.
“[Fifty-thousand dollars] is what Congress has been pushing the Biden administration to do,” Polcari said. “We thought it would be really powerful to have students attach their names to that figure, and also provide the Biden administration with a number.”
President Biden said during a CNN town hall on Feb. 16 that he disagreed with other Democrats who want to cancel $50,000 of student debt. He does, however, support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Polcari approached senior Noella Park, his Westhampton College Government Association counterpart, with this petition idea and she was immediately on board, she said.
“We are going to school in the middle of a pandemic," Park said. "It is not the same quality of education as we would have expected, nor is it the same experience. I think a lot of people are worried about how their student loans are going to be paid back when they graduate, and that is an extra stressor.”
Polcari sent out an outline of his letter in two college leadership GroupMe chats with more than 1,000 student body presidents combined and received positive feedback, he said. Students from a diverse array of schools shared their support for the petition, including students from historically Black colleges and universities, who are heavily impacted by the COVID-19 crisis because of underfunding, Polcari said.
“I think for this crisis there needs to be a middle-class or student-type bailout,” Polcari said. “We did it during the Great Depression, we had Social Security, we had Medicare in the [1960s]. We had all these things that were targeting populations of people who were dealing with incredible strife.
“Now students are economically in a stranglehold. It is going to really hurt our economy if we don’t elevate our generation into more economic freedom.”
The average student loan debt per borrower in the U.S. is $32,731, according to the Federal Reserve. Although this figure has seen been on an upward trend, universities such as Stanford, Harvard and Yale have continued to increase tuition even in the midst of the pandemic.
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Students have had to adapt to online courses; reduced academic resources such as office hours and tutoring; limited mental health resources; and social resources and programs being reduced or eliminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Polcari said.
“If you tally all of [the resources] up, that is value that we signed up for when we took out loans or when some of us even paid for tuition on our own on top of loans,” Polcari said. “Not only did we not get those resources or really any reimbursement back, we had tuition either frozen or raised across the country.”
Junior Valentina Zuluaga, president of UR College Democrats, supports the petition and thinks it is a good segue into a longer conversation, she said.
"I think the future of the petition is probably to put pressure on the Biden administration for at least the $10,000," she said. "Although I think canceling student debt is extremely important, to some extent it is just slapping a Band-Aid on the problem.
"The deeper problem is, 'Why is American higher education so expensive?' And why do individuals as soon as they turn 18 feel coerced to take out such student debt? Although canceling student debt is extremely important, it also is only the beginning in a longer conversation that needs to be had about the cost of American higher education."
Polcari and Park hope to keep acquiring signatures so that the petition gets the attention of someone in the Biden administration, he said.
“I feel that students, in general, need to realize the political power we have right now, and the leverage we have, not only as students but as people going into the workforce in the coming years,” Polcari said. “We have a say, and I think that we have to be vocal.”
Contact news writer Ryan Hudgins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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