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Nearly a million Pennsylvanians could have their student loans wiped away under Joe Biden’s plan

U.S. Department of Education data show those borrowers carry $20,000 or less in federal student loan debt – which the Biden administration wants to eliminate.

  • Sam Dunklau
People walk on the University Park campus of Penn State University.

 Min Xian / WPSU

People walk on the University Park campus of Penn State University.

Nearly a million Pennsylvanians who have federal student loan balances may qualify for total forgiveness under President Joe Biden’s relief plan.

That’s according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, which shows around 1.8 million people in the Keystone State carry federal student debt. The agency estimates the group collectively owes about $65 billion – on pace with similarly-sized states like Ohio.

But half of that group – about 906,000 people – owe amounts that would be forgiven under Biden’s plan: up to $20,000 for anyone who got federally-subsidized Pell Grants, and up to $10,000 for those who didn’t. 

Many more of those borrowers could have some of their student loan balances wiped away as long as they meet the plan’s income thresholds: individuals can make up to $125,000 per year, while married couples can make $250,000 annually. 

Shippensburg University student Regina Yeung is among those who may have debt erased under Biden’s plan. She just started her junior year and is the first in her family to attend college. 

Yeung said a mixture of on-campus work and Pell Grants have helped pay her bills over the last few years.

“Coming to college, I knew I would have to work,” she said. “So this would take a load off my back…I would work less and focus more on my academics.”

Yeung added she’d also be able to set aside more cash for graduate school expenses.

“My dream job is to be a civil rights attorney, so I’m thinking about law school right now, [and] I know it’s expensive,” she said.

Daniel Greenstein, the State System of Higher Education chancellor, said he’s celebrating the loan forgiveness plan – but sees a caveat:

“I think we’re finally seeing…bipartisan discussions about the best way, the most effective way to help students afford the cost of college, so this I think contributes to that discussion,” he said. “[But the plan is] saying to the people who have incurred debt ‘we can help you,’ but it doesn’t do anything for the student enrolling today.”

Greenstein admits the cost of higher education – even at State System schools – is still too high. The average student attending one of those 14 schools ends up with just over $37,000 dollars in debt by the time they graduate, according to spokesperson Kevin Hensil.

Institute for College Access and Success data shows on average, 75% of Pennsylvania’s public and private university students go into debt to pay for school. Each of those students carry an average of $40,000 in loans.

The Biden administration has not announced when federal student loans will be forgiven. The plan may also face challenges to its legal authority in the months ahead. 

The White House has argued it can forgive federal student debt under the 2003 Heroes Act, though the law was originally intended to help Iraq War veterans erase any education debts.

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