Biden forgiving $1 billion in student debt at for-profit colleges

Administration describes move as opening bid to revive aid for sector’s victims

March 18, 2021
US education secretary Miguel Cardona
US education secretary Miguel Cardona

The Biden administration is forgiving some $1 billion (£718 million) in federal student loan debts for more than 70,000 borrowers judged to have been tricked into attending low-quality for-profit colleges.

The decision is the opening move in both a tougher post-Trump administration approach to the for-profit sector, and in an expected Biden policy of loan forgiveness across higher education reaching nearly $400 billion.

The initial batch of 72,000 beneficiaries were judged through long-standing Department of Education processes to have attended for-profit institutions that misled them about graduation or job placement rates.

Trump officials, however, largely refused to process those loan forgiveness cases, contending that any misbehaviour by the colleges did not substantially harm the workplace earnings of their students.

That led to legal action in which a federal judge held the Trump administration’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in contempt and threatened her with jail for not complying with the law.

The new Biden administration education secretary, Miguel Cardona, in a statement announcing the loan forgiveness, called the relief clearly justified and promised to make such claims easier to pursue.

“Borrowers deserve a simplified and fair path to relief when they have been harmed by their institution’s misconduct,” Dr Cardona said.

Bigger questions surrounding student loan forgiveness still await Dr Cardona. Mr Biden promised during last year’s campaign to forgive $10,000 in federal debt for all student borrowers, at an estimated cost to the government of $370 billion. But he has not yet made clear how he plans to proceed.

Republicans have resisted even $10,000 in blanket loan forgiveness at a time when former US college students have accrued an estimated $1.6 trillion in federal debt. Several leading Democrats, meanwhile, want federal forgiveness of $50,000 per borrower, at a cost to the government of some $1 trillion.

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