Will student loan forgiveness affect the upcoming election?

As student debt continues to rise, how will voters affect the presidential election in light of this issue? Photo by: Jake Brosnahan

OSWEGO, N.Y. – A recent survey finds that 48% of voters find canceling student loan debt an important issue in the 2024 presidential and congressional elections.

The survey conducted by research and consulting firm SocialSphere polled 3,812 voters with over 2,000 of those being Millennial or Gen Z respondents.

The upcoming presidential election will likely find party candidates vying for votes from the newer generation of Gen Z and millennial voters.

Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, President Joe Biden made promises to voters for student loan relief, but many voters are dissatisfied with his performance on that front.

“The relief is going to specific groups of people who are enrolled in programs that I never knew existed and are getting all this debt cancellation and I never even knew where to apply,” said Mitchell Parsons, a senior at SUNY Oswego.

Since Biden took office over $144 billion in federal student loans has been forgiven canceling debt for nearly 4 million borrowers, equaling about 9% of the $1.6 trillion of federal student loans that are currently held by borrowers.

Voter’s are concerned because Biden promised more forgiveness at this point that would’ve been achieved under his one-time forgiveness plan that was blocked by the Supreme Court in June 2023.

The plan looked to provide up to $20,000 in relief to millions of borrowers with outstanding debt. The plan would have forgiven $430 billion total in debt to borrowers, making the $144 billion currently forgiven under the Biden Administration fall short nearly two-thirds of his original promise.

“I can understand that now his plan is more focused on people in the millennial age group and canceling their debt but if his original plan went through it would’ve helped millennials more as well as people in my generation more,” said Parsons.

Under the proposed loan forgiveness measures outlined in the HEROES Act, a legislative initiative aimed at addressing the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were significant limitations that left many current students ineligible for substantial relief.

“Most current students would not have been eligible for large sums of loan forgiveness under the HEROES Act because their loans had to be originated before June of 2022, and the amount proposed was $10,000 for non-Pell eligible students, and $20,000 for Pell-eligible students,” said Jennie Hoffman, senior associate director of financial aid at SUNY Oswego.

“If a student borrowed less than those amounts, their forgiveness would be capped at the amounts borrowed,” Hoffman continued.

On the Republican side of the issue, former President Donald Trump proposed to end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program that canceled debt for public sector workers who made 10 years of qualifying payments. Trump’s proposal was never adopted by Congress although Trump excluded the program from his proposed federal budget during his time in office.

“Current loan forgiveness has targeted folks in the PSLF programs who have made 120 qualifying payments on their loans, so those folks have graduated at least 10 years ago, and students who have borrower defense claims,” Hoffman said.

“To me, neither side is really working to help current students with debt forgiveness. Biden has been doing a lot and he’s doing all he can, but I made my own financial obligations expecting to get some loan relief and never got it so it’s put me in a hard place,” said Casey Sweeney, a junior at SUNY Oswego.

“We were very forthright with students regarding the possibility that Biden’s forgiveness programs may not pass through Congress, and to not make decisions now based on a ruling that may not be in their favor,” said Hoffman.

The issue for voters seems to lie in which candidate will do more for student debt forgiveness. On one side Trump has a history of being against debt forgiveness while Biden has shown an initiative to provide more forgiveness but his main plan was shot down. Notably, the Supreme Court decision had the majority votes against his original plan all voted by conservative justices.

“There’s very little evidence that student loan forgiveness is going to affect turnout, in polling it doesn’t show as a thing that’s really going to pop,” said Allison Rank, an associate professor of American politics at SUNY Oswego.

As the average price of a college education continues to rise across America, more young voters continue to show an interest in student loan forgiveness and experts predict this group of voters will affect the polling in upcoming elections.            

Analysts say that the debate on student loan forgiveness is expected to be a central issue in upcoming elections with a large portion of young voters seeing it as a central issue in presidential campaigns. As presidential debates draw closer the issue will be brought to the forefront in the coming months.