Aug 24, 2022 - News

How student loan relief helps Virginians

Illustration of a ball and chain replacing the tassel of a graduation cap, with the chains breaking.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Tens of thousands of Virginians will see relief from some of the collective $43 billion in student loan debt held by state residents.

Driving the news: The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it's canceling up to $20,000 in student debt for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for individual borrowers who make less than $125,000 per year.

Why it matters: The action will cut monthly payments owed by millions of borrowers.

  • "The loan forgiveness provides a sense of relief in knowing I hopefully won't be paying my student loans off for the majority of my adult life," Lauren Howard, an urgent care nurse in Richmond, tells Axios.
  • Howard, 25, has around $42,000 in federal student loans to pay off, with a monthly payment of around $250.

By the numbers: Roughly 60% of Virginia college students graduated with student loan debt over the last decade, per a report from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

  • The average cost of a degree from a Virginia university last year was $35,347 — $10,000 more than just a decade ago, SCHEV reports.
  • Virginia students carry an average of more than $39,000 in student loan debt — the fourth-highest in the country, per Education Data Initiative.
Data: Federal Student Aid; Note: Includes outstanding principal and interest balances from Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loans and Perkins Loans; Table: Simran Parwani/Axios

Of note: Lower income students and students of color, particularly Black students, have been disproportionately affected by the increase in tuition and lack of grant money.

  • Four years after college, Black students owe nearly double the amount of white students, per a 2021 study by Brookings Institution.
  • The additional debt further exacerbates the Black-white wealth gap: White college graduates have seven times more wealth than Black graduates, per the report.

What they're saying: Derek Brooks, a VCU grad who works as a government procurement manager, tells Axios the debt relief is especially important for Black borrowers like him because it helps address generational racial wealth and education disparities.

  • "I don't entirely understand people who have paid off their debt or never had it at all being mad at it," he says. "That's like beating cancer then getting mad if they find a cure."
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