Oct 20, 2021
When Keisha Jeffcoat took out student loans at University of South Carolina, she understood the repayment terms and believed a career in corporate America would mean a higher salary. What she didn’t plan for, however, was the unfair structure of corporate jobs that paid her below her worth and needing loans to financially support herself and relatives, leaving little income to make loan payments.
The single Atlanta resident became burdened by more than $150,000 in student loan debt and health issues, choosing the military over attending Harvard Law School, marriage and a family. Early in her service experience, Jeffcoat was unaware that transitioning from a cadet to an officer would result in losing her benefits including student loan forgiveness.
“On top of interest accruing, getting deployed and life happening, all that money is gone,” said the 47-year-old Major in the Army Reserves who works in the financial sector. “I do have one hope which is filing for 100 percent disability from my military career that would wipe my student loans clean, but that’s not a guarantee.”
Today, more than 44 million Americans carry more than $1.7 trillion of student loan debt, a barrier to achieving financial stability and mobility. This burden falls heaviest on communities of color, particularly Black Americans and Black women, a result of systemic racism’s double whammy of the racial wealth gap and gender wealth gap. About 16 percent of Black borrowers with student loans hold more than $105,000 in debt, compared to 11 percent of white borrowers, according to a study by the National Education Association noting significant disparities between debt levels.
“Cancelling up to $50,000 of student loan debt for eligible borrowers would redress the inequalities built into our higher education finance and help Black and Latino communities achieve financial stability by substantially increasing wealth for these families without any effect on white wealth,” said Shakya Cherry-Donaldson, executive director of 1K Women Strong, a political action coalition that joined the ACLU for a campaign, “Cancel Student Debt: Build Black Women’s Futures.” The campaign aims to amplify the voices of Black women and put pressure on the Biden Administration to cancel $50,000 in debt for every borrower and put borrowers on the path to economic freedom.
The Biden Administration’s moves to provide relief in this area have touched many groups, such as forgiving $330 million for borrowers defrauded by ITT colleges; wiping out $5.8 million in student debt for disabled borrowers; and targeted student loan debt forgiveness in $500 million through the Borrower Defense to Repayment Program that begins in September. Biden also extended freezing federal student loan payments through the end of January 2022. Additionally, dozens of HBCUs have utilized CARES Act funds and donations by philanthropists like Mackenzie Scott to clear balances for students and graduating seniors struggling to make loan payments during the Coronavirus pandemic.
This news is encouraging for Jeffcoat, who shares her story in the 1K Women Strong campaign mobilizing individuals around economic justice. She hasn’t completed law school at University of Georgia but wants to return if costs are covered. “We want equity, not equality, and it’s high time to be vocal about it,” Jeffcoat said.
The 1K Women Strong coalition and ACLU have collected more than 33,000 signatures in support of cancelling student loan debt despite the recent announcement that the moratorium will be extended to January 2022. Borrowers in the meantime are utilizing various solutions that will help them build generational wealth, such as fidelity investments, Bitcoin, owning businesses and real estate.
“Should the Biden-Harris Administration and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona act to relieve Americans of up to $50,000 of student debt, we would then encourage the administration to take up Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman John Clyburn’s proposed student debt legislation,” Cherry-Donaldson said. That bill would allow private student borrowers to receive loan cancellation, automatically refinance remaining federal student loans to lower interest rates and allow borrowers to discharge their loans in bankruptcy.
For more information on the 1K Women Strong student loan debt campaign visit 1KWomenStrong.com.