An Open Letter to Speaker Pelosi on the Student Loan Crisis

As a Democratic voter and donor, a lifelong educator, a tenure-track faculty member at a public university, and someone who has been crushed for decades by student loan debt and repeatedly failed by the administrative incompetence and backlog of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, I am deeply concerned about your factually inaccurate statement on July 28, 2021 about the Executive branch not being able to forgive student loans. The US Education code specifically provides for the Secretary of Education to do this. Forgiveness of interest—which has now been done across multiple administrations—is itself an exercise of this authority. While legislative solutions to the student debt crisis are commendable, all solutions—both Executive and Legislative—should be furthered.

The other part of your statement that was deeply disturbing was about how forgiving student loans using other people’s taxes would not be perceived as fair. That comment was both out of touch and prejudicial in the extreme.

Those of us paying student loans ARE taxpayers, the ones paying the brunt of the public tax burden as a percentage of our income. Preventing our tax dollars from going to our relief, but being ok with our tax dollars going to subsidize huge corporations and large extraction-based industries (oil, farming, etc.), is what is unfair.

Allowing the general public—especially those holding retirement, pension and other investment accounts—to benefit enormously for decades from the predictable 5% interest that we have paid, while our principal balances have stayed the same or even gone up, is what is unfair.

Being fine with educational administrators and service providers—caterers, tech companies, publisher monopolies—making billions during a massive inflationary expansion of higher education funded by our student loans, but offering no real relief to students who had to overpay just to get an education, is what is unfair.

Callously standing by as most of us over the life of our student loans end up paying double, triple, or even quadruple what we originally borrowed, is what is unfair.

Not doing anything substantial to bridge the generational and racial wealth gap in this country, which allows students of wealthy parents to have their education costs fully subsidized, while those of us (especially persons of color) who have been systematically robbed of generational wealth are pushed into years or even decades of debt servitude, is what is unfair.

As the leader of our party in the House, you need to get on the right side of this issue. Please work with Elizabeth Warren and others who are championing a robust, immediate, and multi-pronged solution to the student debt crisis. Please become a strong, vocal advocate for the Executive branch to forgive student loans.

Mark G. Bilby, PhD, MSLIS, MA, MDiv