Playing Politics With Student Loan Debt

The Biden administration is taking a victory lap today after the President signed an executive order to forgive $20,000 in student loan debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for millions of others.

To no one’s surprise, Democrats are hailing the measure, while Republicans are taking shots at the order, citing an anticipated rise inflation.

“If you make under $125,000, you’ll get $10,000 knocked off your student debt,” said President Joe Biden. “If you make under $125,000 a year and you received a Pell Grant, you’ll get an additional $10,000 knocked off that total for a total of $20,000 relief. Ninety-five percent of the borrowers can benefit from these actions.  That’s 43 million people.”

Biden went on to say, “nearly 45 percent can have their student debt fully cancelled.  That’s 20 million people who can start getting on with their lives.”

4th District congresswoman Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) tweeted, “Delighted with the President’s work. As a former professor, I saw how student loan debt was a barrier to students. This is historic targeted relief for those claiming an education, as we continue to recover from the pandemic.”

Former President Donald Trump accused Biden of trying to buy votes for Democrats, calling it an “election enhancing money grab.”

15th District congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Centre) commented, “Since President Biden took office, more than $200 billion in student debt relief has been provided without Congressional approval. Today’s move sets yet another bad precedent. It discounts those who paid their loans, as well as the majority of Americans who do not have student loan debt. Hardworking taxpayers should not bear the cost of Democrats’ debt-driving spending spree.”

So who’s right?

PoliticsPA decided to take a look at the undergraduate alma maters of Pennsylvania’s Senate and gubernatorial candidates, as well as its congressional delegation, to see what is the 2022-23 cost of tuition, room and board and total cost, as well as the median federal debt that students carry along with their diplomas upon graduation.

What did we find?

The average tuition for these 15 colleges and universities is $51,731, while the average room and board totals $16,310. That sum alone exceeds $68,000 and does not include fees.

The average of the median debt that students take with them upon graduation is over $20,000 ($20,639).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average undergraduate tuition, room and board for all 4-year private institutions, which includes all of the above save Penn State:

1979-80: $5,013
1989-90: $12,284
1999-2000: $20,737
2009-10: $31,847
2019-20: $45,925

For public institutions, such as Penn State, Temple and the Pennsylvania state system:

1979-80: $10,735
1989-90: $14,946
1999-2000: $19,196
2009-10: $25,650
2019-20: $29,436

What is noticeable is that the schools with the highest median debt ($27,000) all have endowments under $100 million, meaning there is less money to provide for undergraduate scholarships. Typically, colleges draw earn 5% annually from their endowment to assist with operations and financial aid. So an institution such as Harvard with its $52B endowment will draw approximately $2.6B annually for student aid, while Albright and its $67.5M endowment draws $3.35M annually.

Where you go to school matters. Of the 15 institutions on our list, six institutions have tuition sticker prices topping $60,000, while four others exceed $50,000. Just three institutions are below $40,000.

Penn State’s tuition is a bargain for in-state students, coming in at $19,286, but its median loan debt coming out of State College comes in fifth-highest at $25,928.

It is important to note that since loan payments have been suspended and will not be restarted until January 2023, loan forgiveness will not increase cash flow for borrowers, as that increase in available cash occurred two years ago upon suspension of said payments.

So who’s right? Depends on who you ask.

Harvard University
Senate: Mehmet Oz
Tuition: $52,659 | Room and Board (R&B): $19,502 | Total Cost plus fees: $76,763 | Median Debt: $13,750

Albright College
Senate: John Fetterman
Tuition: $27,020 | R&B: $15,170 | Total Cost: $43,400 | Median Debt: $27,000

Eastern University
Governor: Doug Mastriano
Tuition: $35,864 | R&B: $13,814 | Total Cost: $50,678 | Median Debt: $26,000

University of Rochester
Governor: Josh Shapiro
Tuition: $60,550 | R&B: $18,032 | Total Cost: $79,782 | Median Debt: $23,000

Penn State
1st: Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks); 10th: Scott Perry (R-York); 13th: John Joyce (R-Blair); 14th: Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny); 15th: Glenn Thompson (R-Centre); 18th: Mike Doyle (D-Butler)
Tuition: $19,286 (in-state) $38,651 (out-of-state) | R&B: $12,984 | Total Cost: $32,270 (in) $51,635 (out) | Median Debt: $25,928

University of Notre Dame
2nd: Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia); 16th: Mike Kelly (R-Butler)
Tuition: $60,301 | R&B: $19,910 | Total Cost: $80,211 | Median Debt: $19,000

La Salle University
3rd: Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia); 4th: Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery)
Tuition: $32,640 | R&B: $15,222 | Total Cost: $47,862 | Median Debt: $27,000

Colgate University
5th: Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware)
Tuition: $63,904 | R&B: $16,106 | Total Cost: $80,396 | Median Debt: $15,750

Stanford University
6th: Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester)
Tuition: $57,692 | R&B: $18,619 | Total Cost: $77,304 | Median Debt: $11,750

American University
7th: Susan Wild (D-Lehigh)
Tuition: $53,070 | R&B: $15,706 | Total Cost: $71,704 | Median Debt: $23,999

Hamilton College
8th: Matt Cartwright (D-Lackawanna)
Tuition: $62,050 | R&B: $15,910 | Total Cost: $78,580 | Median Debt: $16,500

Cornell University
9th: Dan Meuser (R-Luzerne)
Tuition: $62,456 (state-supported colleges: $41,958) | R&B: $17,088
Total Cost: $83,296 (state-supported: $62,798) | Median Debt: $14,661

Franklin & Marshall College / Lebanon Valley College
11th: Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster)
F&M Tuition: $65,652 | R&B: $15,478 | Total Cost: $81,722 | Median Debt: $20,000
LVC Tuition: $47,240 | R&B: $13,220 | Total Cost: $65,708 | Median Debt: $27,000

University of Pennsylvania
17th: Conor Lamb (D-Allegheny)
Tuition: $56,212 | R&B: $17,888 | Total Cost: $81,340 | Median Debt: $18,250

8 Responses

  1. Terms like “hardworking” and “hard-earned” are real triggers for me.

    When I see those adjectives used as part of a judgment statement condemning any governmental program or action taken for the public good — and I consider this limited student debt forgiveness program to qualify — my blood boils b

  2. Hardworking tradesmen and small businesses took out loans to start working lives and purchase their trucks, tools, equipment and office space get have to pay for this boondoggle. Colleges have become top heavy with administration and adding on recreational facilities and upscale dorms to attract admissions. Biden called on the gas companies to stop gouging consumers yet is silent on telling colleges to stop gouging students. Universities should be held accountable for graduating students that are unemployable. A much more useful number to know is how many of those loans that need forgiveness are STEM degrees. I don’t see why taxpayers should have to pay for a Mercedes like degree when a Toyota Camry degree is a better option. There is no accountability for colleges to provide productive graduates and some degrees are self indulgent pursuits of useless knowledge.

    1. Spare me. $350 BILLION of PPP loans to small businesses were forgiven by federal government.

  3. Remember when Corbett slashed education dollars and all the local school districts stopped paying for HACC? Tuition at community colleges isn’t cheap. That too has gotten out of reach.

  4. Margorie Taylor Greene railed against the $10k student loan forgiveness program and yet she had $183,500 PPP loan for her construction company forgiven. Typical MAGA Republican.

  5. MAGA GOP is outraged that Biden helped with college loans. MAGA GOP was enjoying torturing the kids with loans that cannot even be removed by bankruptcy. GOP is all about inflicting pain on people.

  6. The bigger point which is not where you go but when you go and how long you are going. Meaning higher education has soared in price over the decades and there is no end in sight. Several causes for this one of which is over selling 4 year degrees and under selling technical education at community colleges which could include 2 year degrees and certificates which are under 2 years. 4 year degrees as masters and doctorates are terrific but not the be all and end all. Don’t be fooled by the politics of higher education because it is bipartisan. Crushing debt stops home and car purchases. There are no Democratic cars or Republican houses—just cars and houses. Decades ago Dr Ken Gray published “Other Ways to Win” promoting the value of encouraging young people to consider the value of technical ed. He was right. Community colleges can greatly reduce borrowing and tuition less community colleges are a way to have less debt.

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