AOC: Everyone should have student loans canceled—including Harvard and Yale grads

BY Sydney LakeFebruary 16, 2022, 6:48 PM
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) greets supporters during a “Get Out the Vote” rally on Feb. 12, 2022, in San Antonio.
Brandon Bell—Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become one of the loudest and most persistent critics of President Joe Biden’s stance on student loan cancellation—and now she’s also distinguishing herself from the president in who she believes qualifies for cancellation.

During a CNN town hall back in February 2021, Biden said that he objected to forgiving student loan debt for borrowers who went to “elite” private colleges including Harvard University, Yale University, and the University of Pennsylvania. He maintained this position in May 2021, telling the New York Times: “The idea that you go to [the University of Pennsylvania] and you’re paying a total of 70,000 bucks a year and the public should pay for that? I don’t agree.”

On Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez debunked Biden’s reasoning, during a town hall she hosted, when she was asked about the fairness of mass debt cancellation that would benefit both low-income and high-income borrowers.

“Taking the school that someone went to college to is not really shorthand for the income of the family that they come from,” she said. “I would caution against the assumption that people who go to Duke, Harvard, et cetera are automatically well-off because they got into those schools or attended those institutions.”

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t address Biden’s broader debt cancellation efforts in her town hall. The president has made concerted efforts to cancel student debt for defrauded and disabled borrowers, though he has yet to follow through on his campaign promise to cancel up to $10,000 per borrower. His forgiveness has totaled $15 billion, but more than 43 million borrowers still hold federal debt that totals more than $1.61 trillion.

Even so, Ocasio-Cortez—along with other Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren—has also been pushing a plan to cancel up to $50,000 in debt per borrower. But the problem is that Biden doesn’t believe he has the legal authority to do so through an executive order.

Does everyone qualify for federal student aid?

When asked on Tuesday about who should ultimately receive debt cancellation, Ocasio-Cortez said that most high-income families don’t even qualify for certain types of federal student loan aid—and many don’t bother to apply. 

“This idea that the very rich are going to benefit more from student loan cancellation than the middle class—I would argue it is a little bit of a farce,” she said at the town hall on Tuesday. “Because if you are very wealthy, if you are a multimillionaire’s child, if you are Bill Gates’ kid, if you’re Jeff Bezos’s kid—Jeff Bezos isn’t taking out a student loan to send his kids to college.”

Anyone can apply for a federal student loan through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and there’s technically no income limit or cutoff, according to Student Loan Hero. That’s because income isn’t the only factor considered when the Federal Student Aid (FSA) office determines your financial need. 

School cost and number of siblings attending school are also considered. However, there’s still a possibility your family may not qualify to receive aid once all factors are determined, according to Student Loan Hero and the FSA.

Ocasio-Cortez also errs on the side of forgiving student loans for all borrowers, comparing it to the stimulus check. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people relied on their stimulus checks to pay for basic necessities like shelter and food, but others used it to make donations, contribute to their savings, or stimulate the economy by purchasing goods and services, she says. 

“If you’re going to lean one way, I would prefer that we lean in the direction of being a little too generous than underserving the most vulnerable people,” Ocasio-Cortez said Tuesday. “Might there be some people who you think shouldn’t have their loans forgiven and they are getting forgiven? It’s possible.”

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