Americans are in favor of canceling student loans, but prefer to limit university fees

As President Biden nears an announcement on the cancellation of federal student loans, a new NPR/Ipsos poll has found that just over half of Americans support what has been flagged as the most likely from Biden: forgive up to $10,000 per person. But an overwhelming majority – including a majority of those with student loans – said the government should prioritize making college more affordable rather than canceling existing student loans.

The nationally representative survey of 1,022 Americans was conducted between June 3 and June 5 and included an oversample of more than 400 student borrowers. The margin of error is +/- 3.3 percentage points for all respondents and +/- 4.8 percentage points for those with student loans.

Here’s what we learned:

There is general support for some debt cancellation

A majority of the general public (55%) supports forgiveness of up to $10,000 of federal student loan debt. But the more the relief is generous, the more this support shrinks.

Forty-seven percent of all respondents said they supported writing off debt of up to $50,000, while 41% expressed support for completely wiping the slate clean for all borrowers.

Support for debt relief was, unsurprisingly, much higher among borrowers themselves.

One thing that comes out very clearly from this poll is that the people closest to the problem, the people who currently have student debt, are in a very different position than the general American public,” says Mallory. Newall from Ipsos.

Eighty-four percent of borrowers supported $10,000 in relief, 78% supported a jump to $50,000, and another two-thirds (68%) supported cancellation of all student loan debt.

Support was much lower among respondents without a student loan: half favored $10,000 relief and only 37% favored full debt forgiveness.

The Biden administration has also hinted it may exclude high-income borrowers from relief — those earning more than $150,000 a year or couples earning more than $300,000. But when asked about income limits, respondents’ views on debt relief did not budge.

Don’t leave out college borrowers

The Biden administration has mooted the possibility of only forgiving undergraduate debt, on the premise that a borrower with an advanced degree is in a better position to pay off debt. But according to this new survey, Americans see no significant difference.

Sixty-five percent of all respondents agreed: if the government forgives student loan debt, it should be for any type of education, whether undergraduate or graduate.

Only 30% said if the government canceled debt, it should only be for undergraduates.

Erase old debts vs fix the system

In one of the most unexpected findings of the survey, respondents were asked to choose the sentence they most agreed with:

  • “The government should prioritize making college more affordable for current and future students”
  • “The government should prioritize the cancellation of certain debts for those who already have student loans”
  • A whopping 82% said the government’s priority should be to make college more affordable for current and future students. Only 16% believed that canceling student debt should be a priority.

    What this tells me is that while canceling student loans for some is seen as a good proposal and a short-term solution, where we really need to go from here is a real systematic change,” says Newall.

    The other surprise is that respondents with student loans felt the same way.

    Fifty-nine percent of respondents with student loans said the government should focus on fixing the system first, while 41% said the government should prioritize debt cancellation.

    “If I had to pick one for myself today: forgive student loans,” says Briana Ford, 27, of Columbia, South Carolina. She has about $50,000 in college student loan debt and is now in the process of earning a graduate degree.

    Ford says she has tried, at every turn, to pay for her education without relying on loans, but she is incredibly frustrated with the high cost of college and worries that a generation of students will take out loans that ‘they can’t afford it because they don’t see any other viable solution. path to the middle class.

    That’s why, even though Ford wants Biden to prioritize debt forgiveness for past borrowers, she says the federal government needs to do something to help future borrowers as well.

    I agree that just forgiving student loans without fixing the problem is like draining a bathtub without turning off the tap,” Ford says, but “really, it’s not one or the other. Political leaders can actually do two things.”

    …simply forgiving student loans without fixing the problem is like draining a bathtub without turning off the tap.

    This could be a key crack in the student debt debate as President Biden’s most ambitious efforts to remake the system in the future remain unfinished, including his arguments to make community college free and to double the Pell Grant. for low-income students.

    The general public seems to understand what economists have been worrying about for months: that a decision to wipe out student debt without a plan to help future borrowers will simply lead to a new mountain of debt for a new generation of student debtors – and quickly. .

    In fact, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that “stock debt would return to its current level in 2027 for a $10,000 forgiveness, in 2034 for a $50,000 forgiveness, and in 2039 for full forgiveness.” “.

    What borrowers did during the student loan payment break

    Federal student loan payments have been on pause since March 2020. According to the survey, 57% of borrowers made no payments during the pause and 20% never made a payment for their student loans.

    Twins Morgan and Trianna Downing are among nearly 4 million college students who graduated in the spring of 2020 directly into the student loan payment freeze. They never experienced the pressures of regular loan repayments. Now, after a few years in the workforce and with a view to college, the twins have very different views on their finances.

    / Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for NPR


    Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for NPR

    Twins Morgan (right) and Trianna Downing are among an estimated 4 million students who graduated in the spring of 2020 directly into the student loan payment freeze.

    Trianna wants to pay off her undergraduate debt before taking out more loans for her graduate studies.

    “I don’t mind starting to pay mine off now. I’m hoping to pay it off in less than four to six years, and I’ve budgeted to be able to do that.”

    The poll suggests she is an unusual case – only a small slice of respondents aged 18 to 25 said they made payments during the break.

    Morgan feels differently. She says she made a few repayments after graduating, but “after the second or third payment, I was like, ‘This is ridiculous. Why am I making payments?’ ”

    She says her undergraduate loans don’t seem real, and she’s waiting to see if President Biden keeps his campaign promise to forgive at least $10,000 in student debt per person.

    “I was delighted to vote for a president who said [he] was going to erase [my] debt,” Morgan says.

    In fact, 42% of borrowers in the NPR/Ipsos poll said they didn’t make a payment during the break because they hoped their debts would be forgiven.

    The payment pause allowed borrowers to breathe

    Forty-seven percent of borrowers surveyed by NPR and Ipsos said the payment break had improved their mental health.

    Newall at Ipsos says it’s evident when you look at how borrowers spent the money they didn’t have to spend on their loans. The top three expenses in this category include essentials like food, rent and gas (51%); repay other debts (45%); and putting money into savings (44%).

    “Clearly it gave people some financial freedom,” Newall says, “but that freedom isn’t really about making a big purchase like a house or a car or taking a vacation. ‘a reprieve – a little respite from your day-to-day life.’

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