The Biden administration this week canceled almost $6 billion in student loan debt for borrowers who attended the now-defunct network of for-profit schools known as Corinthian Colleges, which defrauded thousands of students before being shut down in 2015. We speak to two activists from the Debt Collective, a group working to end the student loan crisis, about the ongoing fight for full federal student debt cancellation. Pamela Hunt was a former Corinthian College student who accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt and was one of the original 15 students who refused to pay their loans. “It’s a very monumental win,” she says, adding that her crushing debt prevented her from becoming a homeowner and contributed to the stress of her cancer diagnosis. “If student debt is illegitimate, why not cancel all of it?” says Braxton Brewington, press secretary of the Debt Collective.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
The Department of Education has canceled $5.8 billion in student loan debt for borrowers who attended the now-defunct network of for-profit schools known as Corinthian Colleges. It’s the largest one-time discharge of debt ever made by the Department of Education. Vice President Kamala Harris formally announced the debt cancellation Thursday.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: All former students will soon receive notice that Corinthian College federal loans will be canceled. And this will benefit more than half a million people who still have loans, and it will add up to almost $6 billion in debt relief for former students. And, of course, we all know that’s real money in the pockets of real people, who have faced over these years significant debt, many of whom are still struggling to make ends meet as costs have gone up.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Corinthian students have been organizing for years to abolish their debt. In 2015, 15 former students of Corinthian launched what they described as the nation’s first student debt strike.
We’re joined now by two guests. Pamela Hunt is a former student of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain who took part in the debt strike. She’s also a member of the Debt Collective, a group working to end the student loan crisis. And we’re joined by Braxton Brewington, press secretary of the Debt Collective.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Pamela, let’s begin with you. Talk about what just happened — this is historic — and what it means for so many students at Corinthian Colleges.
PAMELA HUNT: It is very historic, and it’s a very monumental win for the for-profit students from Corinthian. It was a long time coming. I’ve been in this fight — we’ve been in this fight for eight-and-a-half years. I would say it was eight years longer than it should be. But, I mean, it does give students some breathing room. It gives them — you know, relieves them of some of the hardships that they faced while they were dealing with this monumental debt. However —
AMY GOODMAN: Pamela, I was wondering if you can talk specifically about yourself. You had over $100,000 in student debt from studies at Corinthian Colleges —
PAMELA HUNT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — that was forgiven last year, but still face $100,000. Explain what happened, dealing with this as you also had to deal with cancer.
PAMELA HUNT: Oh, yes. Yes, I did have — I was diagnosed with cancer as I was in the fight with Corinthian, and I had $253,000 in student loan debt. And I got debt relief last year from the Department of Ed for just my Corinthian student loans. I still have over $100,000 in student loan debt from my undergrad study and as a parent that had to do a parent PLUS loan for my youngest daughter.
For me, at the time when I had the $253,000 debt, life was very hard. I was actually trying to buy a house, and I could not because of my debt-to-income ratio, and my student loan debt was used as part of that figure. So, now that that debt was erased last year, I am back on the road to trying to become a homeowner, and hopefully this time around it will, you know, do what it’s supposed to do. In the meantime, when I was going through my cancer treatment, the Obama administration was in office, and I did send him a movie clip, a video clip, while I was going through treatment, and, you know, asking him if he could go ahead and just cancel this illegitimate debt, because I was one of the students that was being defrauded. And, I mean, it did make going through my treatment a lot harder because of the stress of, you know, just what having that type of insurmountable debt does, the stress. And, you know, stress isn’t good under any circumstances, especially if you’re going through chemo treatment and radiation.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Braxton Brewington if you can explain how this week came about, this historic forgiveness of close to $6 billion in student loan debt, but only for former students of Corinthian Colleges. How many people will this affect? And talk about the activism that led to this, but the broader picture and what you’re calling for.
BRAXTON BREWINGTON: [inaudible] strike and refused to make student loan payments to call out —
AMY GOODMAN: Could you start again, Braxton? We didn’t catch the beginning of what you said.
BRAXTON BREWINGTON: Absolutely. Pam was one of those individuals, the Corinthian 15, who refused to make those payments and called out the illegitimacy of federal student loan debt, whether it was because of a for-profit college or a so-called traditional institution. And so, going on that strike and the Debt Collective and the Corinthian 15 politicizing federal student debt altogether and calling for an automatic group-wide discharge really actually set the precedent for broader-scale relief, which is the conversation that we’re having right now, calling on President Biden to eliminate all federal student debt.
So, this group-wide discharge that was administered automatically, really, I think, shows how simple in the solution — how simple and just the solution is to just wipe out a debt for a specific group of people. And so I think that is setting a precedent now for broad-scale relief. And what Pam has really shown is that the intersection is much deeper than just eliminating debt for Corinthian students and thinking that the problem for those students will simply go away. There’s actually a much deeper intersection, folks who have private student loans, people who have federal student loans or parent PLUS loans that didn’t come from trying to go to Corinthian College. So, that really sets the scale for saying, “Wait a minute, all of this debt is illegitimate. And Biden should take action.”
AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond, Braxton, to, what, the editorial boards of The Washington Post, The New York Times coming out against forgiveness for all student debt? Explain what your response is for President Biden proposing up to $10,000 relief.
BRAXTON BREWINGTON: Yeah, the $10,000 proposal is grossly inadequate, based on very strong data of race, of the macroeconomic data, and also just in terms of what political rewards President Biden could reap.
I think what we’ve seen from major editorial boards across the country is a deep misunderstanding of this issue, and perhaps a commitment to the commodification of higher education. There’s been these suggestions or proposals to possibly tweak some of the repayment programs that we currently have now, like public service loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment programs, as if those are new ideas, when in fact we’ve been tweaking and fixing these broken proposals for a couple of decades now, and no one — essentially, no one has gotten relief from these proposals, which is why we’re calling on full student debt cancellation. There’s also been a huge conflation of canceling all student debt with the end-all solution of making college free. No, that would require legislation.
But, you know, the $10,000 proposal, I think, is sort of a way that the Biden administration and neoliberals think that they can sort of thread a needle of appeasing the right while satisfying the left, when in actuality it’s just going to frustrate everyone. And so they should really just go big, cancel all of it, right? If student debt is illegitimate —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
BRAXTON BREWINGTON: If student debt is illegitimate, why not cancel all of it? And if it’s legitimate, then why would you cancel just $10,000?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Braxton Brewington, of course, we’re going to continue to cover this issue, press secretary of the Debt Collective, and Pamela Hunt, former student of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain who took part in the historic student debt strike in 2015. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.