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Does Biden's student loan plan do enough for Black graduates?


We're going to get another view on this issue now. Wisdom Cole is the national director of the NAACP's Youth and College Division, and he joins us this morning. Thanks so much for being with us.

WISDOM COLE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You have called student debt a racial justice issue. Can you explain the inequities, as you see them, built into this?

COLE: Yeah. You know, when we are looking at college education and young people pursuing a better life and a better future, we recognize college has been presented to us as the great equalizer - right? - this opportunity for you to go to school to learn a career or a trade and to be able to get a good-paying job so you can become a homeowner or a business owner or participate in this economic system. But when we look at the amount of debt that Black borrowers are taking out in comparison to white borrowers, it's oftentimes much higher, right?

We know that Black borrowers have an average of $53,000 in student debt, and that is a greater increase in comparison to white borrowers, as well as the amount of time that that debt is held even after they graduate from college, and it's disproportionate, right? We look at the most educated group in America being Black women and then continuing to exceed and attain higher education degrees and still holding that debt for longer periods of time. And so recognizing that this is a racial justice issue because it is impeding our ability to actually participate in our economic system.

MARTIN: So what are your criticisms of President Biden's plan? You think it didn't go far enough.

COLE: You know, I think that 10,000 was a start. You know, 10,000 is not enough to meet the need, but it did show us that student debt cancellation is possible. For years and years and years, people said that this was impossible to see broad-spread cancellation of student debt. And so what happened - what we saw was that our president did come through partially on his promises around cancellation, and so this is the start to make sure that we are seeing further and further cancellation down the line, you know?

Throughout the Biden administration, there has been smaller bits of cancellation for folks who have disabilities, for veterans, for folks who were attending for-profit institutions. And so there have been smaller bits and pieces happening, and this is the largest piece that we've seen so far. And I think the real victory here was those who are seeing cancellation of up to 20,000 who are Pell Grant recipients, which includes a lot of Black borrowers and a lot of young people and folks who attend HBCUs.

MARTIN: But in an opinion piece before the decision came out, you said capping forgiveness at $10,000 for individual borrowers would be a, quote, "devastating political mistake for President Biden." Do you still believe that?

COLE: You know, there are a lot of questions still in terms of how are we going to navigate this process, right? This idea of means testing or an income cap or a threshold definitely presents some questions in terms of how are people going to navigate that system, right? This calls into question in terms of what does this actually mean in terms of seeing that cancellation happen and hit people's accounts. And so we really were pushing to ensure that, you know, the president did broad-spread cancellation, which is a possibility, to ensure that we see the most amount of relief for the most amount of borrowers, right? We have to recognize that 125,000 in New York isn't the same as 125,000 in Georgia or Texas or Florida or other places across the country.

MARTIN: So the administration is going to feel like it's accomplished something on this issue, especially ahead of the midterms. If you had five minutes with the president in the Oval Office, what do you say about the next critical step?

COLE: You know, I say that this is a great step forward, and I appreciate the effort to ensure that we see cancellation in this lifetime, and so I'm glad that we were able to make this happen and look forward to further cancellation down the line.

MARTIN: Wisdom Cole, national director of the NAACP's Youth and College Division. Thanks for your time this morning.

COLE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.