Erasing student loan debt means nothing without systemic change. Student debt in the United States has been growing at six times the rate of the economy, and the U.S. has amassed over $1.57 trillion in student debt. As one of the 42.9 million Americans with student loan debt, I can tell you that it impacts almost every part of the college experience. I remember spending my first weekend of college sitting in a circle with people I had just met talking about our student loans. Every one of us had done everything right; high grades, good test scores, extracurriculars, some of us had athletic scholarships, all of us had jobs in high school and on campus. None of that mattered. Paying for college is not about ability; it is about wealth and luck.
However, eliminating student loan debt is not the right first move. Forgiving student debt is akin to taking pain medication for an infection instead of an antibiotic. While it is a welcome relief, it is treating the symptoms, not the cause. After we forgive today’s debt, the next generation of college students will enter the same higher-education system with the same high tuition costs and the same wages. In fact, erasing student loan debt may even encourage colleges to increase costs further. That is why if we as a nation choose to forgive student debt, it needs to come after we have solved the root cause of the crisis. Otherwise, there will always be more debt to forgive.