Ashley Johnson said she fell in love with Texas Southern University because of the rich culture of Houston’s historically black institution. However, earning an undergraduate degree, which Johnson’s family encouraged and valued, would be expensive.
“I knew the alternative if I didn’t have a degree was that the financial stability might not be there, so I had to take a chance. ‘Cause if I didn’t, then where would I be? says Johnson.
Johnson and her twin sister took out about $50,000 in student loans together, and their mother borrowed additional money on her behalf. After graduating last year, Johnson landed a job she says will help her achieve her career goals.
Due to her student loans, she plans to return home, as well as to postpone her law studies and marriage.
“Our economy is changing. More often than not, to get to better jobs, to get a better quality of life, you have to be an educated person, and that shouldn’t be out of reach for the basic middle-class family,” Johnson says.
More than 45 million Americans collectively owe more than $1.7 trillion in student loans. Johnson is calling on President Biden to follow through on a campaign promise. During the campaign, Biden pledged to forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt per person. Like some of Biden’s other campaign proposals, this one is stalled in Congress. But many Democrats continue to push him to provide relief.
The Biden administration recently canceled $415 million in student loans for 16,000 borrowers who went to for-profit schools. A congressional representative from South Texas has proposed more debt relief. There is a growing movement in Congress to help graduates struggling with large student loan balances.
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, is sponsoring legislation that would forgive up to $25,000 in federal student loans per borrower.
“It really is America’s treasure, young college graduates who don’t come from wealthy families, but want to better themselves.” Gonzalez told Capital Tonight. “It is a truly shameful fact that we are indebting young people to this heavy debt.”
Gonzalez said he understands the pain of student borrowers firsthand. By the time he graduated from law school, Gonzalez had racked up $100,000 in student loan debt, he said. Although he has since paid for it, it took him years to do so. The congresswoman acknowledged that mass loan forgiveness will also benefit high-income earners, but argues she shouldn’t condemn the idea. Helping high-income borrowers remains a common criticism of student loan forgiveness programs.
“$25,000 will relieve 70% of US student loan holders. So it was a great place for me which I thought would do the most good [and] at a very reasonable cost to the American people. ” did he declare.
Biden extended the pandemic-related pause on federal student loan repayments and borrowers are now trying to figure out how to make their payments once they resume on May 1.
Johnson said that within a year of graduating, her debt had increased by $4,000 due to interest. Not only is she asking for loan forgiveness, but she’s urging lawmakers to tackle the fundamental problem of why college is so expensive.
“We should look at how student loans are even structured, their longevity. And even the way they’re structured to look at how it’s harder for people coming out of college to get jobs that really affect them,” she said.