Sen. Sherrod Brown talks to KentWired about student loan forgiveness

Baylee Sweitzer, Portage Pulse Producer

Alton Northup Senior Reporter

On the 2020 campaign trail, President Joe Biden promised young voters that his administration would cancel thousands in student debt.

The rising number of college graduates facing financial struggle played a major role in the Democrats success in 2020. Before that, 60 percent of Ohio graduates owed an average of $30,000 in student loan debt in 2019, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. However, with Biden over a year into his term, many students have expressed concern that the Democrats may have forgotten about their key campaign promise.

On Monday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sat down with KentWired to discuss the student loan crisis and the progress of canceling student debt, a proposal he has played a major role in lobbying for.

Alton: You were a part of a push to get President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt per borrower, why do you think that is important and where does that figure come from?

Sen. Brown: Well, I just spoke to a journalism class here, and you can’t come to a campus and not hear about student debt. You also can’t, as you ask people about it, you can’t help but understand how it will affect their lives in the next five, 10, 15 years; in terms of maybe getting married, maybe putting off a date for marriage, maybe job choice, that you take the higher paying job, even though you know it’s not really the one you want because you’ve got student debt. And equally important, so many people of this generation’s students at Kent today and students all over the country are not able to buy a home as early as they would like to or at all. And that’s really tragic because we know that wealth and success in so many ways are based on homeownership and the sort of floor that builds on to your lifestyle.

Alton: Some articles have recently predicted that very few of our generation will own homes. Some have called us the “renter generation.”

Sen. Brown: The fact that so few people can buy homes will affect the prosperity of our country. We know there’s still not enough people that own homes, not enough people that have the wherewithal for the down payment, especially. And I don’t think it’s the generation of students coming out of college now that often can’t afford the monthly payment, it’s the down payment. And I’m working on legislation, in the Build Back Better proposal, to help people with first time homebuyers, first generation homebuyers too, to help them with that down payment. But the best way to help with the down payment is to wipe away a substantial amount of student loan debt.

Alton: Some of your colleagues, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have said that the president could cancel that debt with the stroke of a pen. Do you agree with that, and if so, how are your feelings about Biden’s delay in doing that?

Freshman journalism major Alton Northup and junior journalism major Baylee Sweitzer interview Sen. Sherrod Brown Monday. President Joe Biden campaigned about forgiving student loan debt before entering presidency.

Sen. Brown: I think the White House is not clear that the law allows them to do that. I think they will, if they believe. If the president just, with the signing of a document, can wipe away student debt, we know that some ultra-conservative Republicans will go to court and challenge it. And I know what my colleagues have said, what Sen. Warren said, but I’m not certain yet that the president can do it. I know he wants to. I know he will if he thinks he can do it. I think he knows he faces lawsuits and he’s trying to figure out a way to do it in the quickest, safest, best way that they can’t be canceled out by the next guy in that office.

Alton: Do you think we’ll see that within his first term?

Sen. Brown: I think President Biden understands he needs to move quickly.

Alton: The average student loan debt is $36,510, according to EducationData.org. However, the average private student loan debt is $54,921 per borrower. How do you address that when the federal government doesn’t really have the reach when it comes to private loans?

Sen. Brown: I think we do as much as we can. I know that part of this is the Department of Education prosecuting those for-profit, predator kinds of schools. You didn’t mention that in your analysis, but the for-profit schools have several problems. One, they don’t provide a particularly good education. Second, they charge too much. Third, they have a battery of lawyers to go after students for payment. And also, students are less likely to finish those schools. I mean, the worst situations, obviously, are kids that go for two or three years then drop out, still have the debt, don’t have the degree. So, we’ve got to attack this from every one of those angles.

Alton: Should private college students have the same assistance as public ones?

Sen. Brown: I don’t want to discriminate among students. I think the federal government has got to use its power to prosecute those for-profit schools that have taken advantage of kids. But I don’t think whether it’s Kent State or Malone, I don’t think we should discriminate between one or the other. People go to private schools knowing they’re going to pay more, and they’re going to get debt, but they still have needs to wipe some of that debt clean.

Alton: There’s a steady decrease in middle-class, high school graduates attending college, according to The Hechinger Report. A lot of researchers blame this on their inability to get federal grants and subsidized loans. The ones who do attend often take out private loans. Around 52 percent of American adults live in middle-class households, according to The Pew Research Center. So canceling student debt, while beneficial to lower-class households, might not have any effect on most middle-class households. What is your solution to this, and why do you think so many middle-class Americans express that they feel left behind?

Sen. Brown: They feel left behind because they have been left behind. They’ve had a government that cares about the rich, that’s what most of the last four years was all about. The Trump administration cut investment in public education, cut funding on student loans and had no interest in forgiving debts. We have to approach all of that. High schoolers don’t have interest in going to college because they know what happened to their older brothers and sisters, who got caught up in this and face all this debt, and they think it’s not worth taking that risk.

Alton: So how would you address that?

Sen. Brown: You address that by eliminating some student debt. You address that by encouraging state governments to invest. I mean, this Ohio state government is undercut and under-invested in state universities for a generation now. This state government is, you know, it’s corrupt, it’s incompetent. It spends more time with guns and taking away women’s health rights and very little on investing in public education.

Alton: Here at Kent State, President Todd Diacon’s salary for the 2021-2022 school year is $484, 500, and that’s not including soft benefits like housing, car stipends and retirement packages. President Biden’s salary is $400,000. Public university presidents are making more than the actual president. Some are even making millions. What do you make of that?

Sen. Brown: None of them should make millions. I know to get good public administrators, college administrators, you’ve got to pay decent wages, I mean more than decent wages. You consider, if they were in the private sector, they make 10 times that amount. That’s the problem. So much of what we’ve allowed in this country is CEOs are making seven and eight and 10 and $20 million. They get stock buybacks. We’re trying to cut back on that, and the tax system has favored the rich. So, so much of that we need to fix sort of from the top down.

Alton Northup is a senior reporter. Contact him at [email protected]