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Yousef Baig is The Sacramento Bee’s assistant opinion editor.
If there is an actual form of indoctrination taking place in our schools, it has nothing to do with liberal ideals, gender identity or a more accurate portrayal of American history. It’s the idea that to be successful, you need to go to college.
So we have. After postsecondary schools desegregated in 1965, the number of high school graduates enrolled in college has grown roughly 23 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. The number of Black students has nearly tripled over the past 30 years, and Latino students have experienced the most dramatic enrollment increases since 2000, surging 14 percent over an 18-year span. Almost two in three Asian American children are going to college these days.
It’s no secret that higher education costs have skyrocketed in my 32-year lifetime, a reality at the heart of President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive a portion of student loans for low-income and middle-class Americans. Between 1996 and 2016, the average amount of college debt per person rose more than $17,000, encompassing 69 percent of students. By 2020, the U.S. concluded an egregious decade of debt accumulation, surpassing $1.7 trillion in student loans, 102 percent more than in 2010.
Biden’s decision to forgive up to $20,000 in student loans isn’t a handout for the rich, as right-wing zealots claim. It’s not going to increase inflation. It’s not going to force everyone else to bear the cost.
It’s going to level the playing field, and that’s what ideologues and people in power are most upset about.
Advances in college access and narrowing achievement gaps over the last six decades have been overshadowed by gross increases in the price to simply participate in the higher education we were indoctrinated into regarding as essential. Over time, student debt helped perpetuate economic disparities and curtail wealth accumulation for groups that were once underrepresented in colleges — specifically women and nonwhite students.
Roughly 90 percent of debt cancellation will benefit people who make $75,000 or less, according to a U.S. Department of Education analysis. Those aren’t rich folks. In some California cities, that’s enough to qualify for subsidized housing.
However, the forgiveness will help an estimated 43 million people nationwide, 65% of whom are 39 or younger. That means the generation benefiting most will be millennials, who joined the economy at the height of the Great Recession, returned home to live with their parents in about a third of cases, and reached prime home-buying age when the pandemic struck.
Somehow, partisans assert that a generation boasting a homeownership rate 8 percent behind previous generations should be considered rich.
Debt cancellation isn’t exclusive to college graduates, either. People who didn’t finish college average roughly $14,000 in student debts, and more than half don’t make payments, multiplying the damage to middle- and working-class households.
At its essence, canceling student loans lifts the U.S. higher education barriers that slow the progress of women and nonwhite students — because no groups have seen greater educational gains over the past 60 years, and no groups have been more disproportionately affected by college debt.
We wanted a chance at the supposed “American meritocracy,” so we did what we were told to do.
The privileged class and wealthy partisans are trying their best to reduce loan forgiveness to a handout to the elite, but this is far from a culture war battle. It’s the realization that this country has to give younger and more diverse generations a real shot to catch up, and for some people, that’s terrifying.