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Student loan debt weighs on more than 44 million Americans and prevents millions of people from buying homes, starting a business, saving for retirement, or even starting a family. This debt disproportionately affects black families, and black women in particular.

Higher education has long been viewed as an essential gateway to securing employment and achieving economic stability and mobility. But due to long-standing systemic racial discrimination, black families have far less wealth to draw on to pay for their education, creating barriers for black communities to access higher education and build wealth. Black families are more likely to borrow, borrow more, and have repayment problems. Two decades after taking out student loans, the median black borrower still owes 95% of their debt, while the median white borrower has Paid 94 percent of their debt.

Students of color pursue higher education in a social and economic system built on racist ideologies that is set up to work against them and perpetuate racial wealth and disparities in income and achievement. To correct this systemic inequality, the ACLU, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) and more than 300 other organizations are calling on the Biden-Harris administration and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to use their authority under the Higher Education Act to write off $ 50,000 in student debt per borrower, and Congress must also act.

To understand the systemic issues rooted in the student debt crisis, one must begin with its history. Although we have normalized the idea that students have to go into debt for college, historically, students have benefited from a large public investment in higher education. However, not all students benefited equally: Black students had little access to the benefits of the GI Bill, and even a decade after Brown v. Board of Education (1954), predominantly white institutions (PWI) in many states have resisted integration and equal treatment. Additionally, state and federal governments continued to inadequately and inequitably fund historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) despite the high-quality opportunities they provided and the essential function they performed for students and communities. black. This created and cemented the racial wealth and lack of resources in higher education institutions.

It was against this backdrop that Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Higher Education Act of 1965. Recognizing the value of broad access to higher education, Johnson hoped the legislation would open the doors to higher education. opportunity to everyone, especially black students and other students of color, through Pell Grants and other grants.

Yet, at the end of the 20th century, just as black and brown students and women entered after decades of legal battles and social struggles, reactionary policymakers shifted the significant costs of higher education from the public to individual families. What had been considered a public good when it was mainly reserved for white men, has become a public burden to be transferred to families.

This diversion of public funding, which accelerated after the Great Recession, has led to predictable and damaging results: today, the cost of higher education is beyond imagination. It is out of reach for most families, especially black and brown college students, unless they take on unsustainable debt. Indeed, we are continuing the horrific legacy of housing redlining and discrimination by demanding that the same black families who were historically deprived of wealth go into more debt than their white peers.

The student debt crisis is just one of the latest iterations in the long and shameful history of too many broken promises to black and brown communities. This country broke its promise to give former slaves the land they worked on to create wealth after the Civil War. Then, because of inaccessibility, inaccessible GI benefits, and now the diminished value of college degrees, blacks have continually seen the roads to economic success completely blocked.

Cancellation of $ 50,000 in student debt can help ensure financial stability and economic mobility for black and brown borrowers who are disproportionately burdened by this student debt crisis and the impacts of the racial wealth gap in this country . But even after graduation, blacks and Latinos face significant job discrimination and earn far less than their white counterparts. This income gap makes it even more difficult to establish financial stability and manage student loan repayments. A college education actually widens the wealth gap due to the high costs and structural problems in our system. Yet higher education is a necessity, not a luxury, for today’s workforce.

Because of these persistent inequalities, even with a write-off of $ 50,000 per borrower, there will still be millions of borrowers in debt. That number will only increase unless we completely overhaul loan repayment and create a debt-free college system. The Center for Responsible Learning argues that the federal government should improve repayment by: (1) removing bad debt from the books, such as debts that have been in repayment for more than 15 years; (2) restore limitations on collections and make student debt dischargeable in bankruptcy; and (3) make repayment truly affordable and budget-friendly with a new income-driven repayment plan open to all borrowers. For new students, a new social contract could also double the Pell grant and increase funding and support for HBCUs.

We have the opportunity to help millions of families achieve their American dreams, ensure financial stability and economic mobility for black and brown families, and take a critical step in closing the racial wealth gap. The charge is clear, the time is right, and the time to act is now: The Biden administration must write off $ 50,000 in student debt per borrower.

What you can do: Cancel student debt: $ 50,000 for each borrower: Add your name

Photo by MoniQue Rangell-Onwuegbuzia on Unsplash

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