Most US Adults Don't Support Student Loan Cancellation

 A mother and daughter meet with an advisor to discuss college finances.
•••

SDI Productions / Getty Images

Only 41% of adults in the U.S. support canceling all student loan debt, according to a survey conducted by The Balance on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) plan. Survey respondents showed support for other policies within the BBB plan such as making prescription drugs more affordable, taxing the rich, making child care affordable, and working to stop climate change, with over 50% support for each of those initiatives. However, student loan cancellation was one of only a handful of policy ideas surveyed to get less than 50% support. 

Key Takeaways

  • Among those surveyed by The Balance, only 41% of adults in the U.S. support canceling all student loans. 
  • Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed support increasing federal college grants for students who need assistance to pay for college. 
  • Minority-focused education policies were one of the most contentious points between conservative and liberal survey respondents. 

Expanding federal college grants to “Dreamers” (immigrants living in the U.S. who arrived as minors, but without official authorization) was another BBB initiative that failed to top the 50% threshold in our survey, though it was more popular than student loan forgiveness. Nearly half of respondents (47%) said they still back the idea of giving college grants to Dreamers, so called because they are people who would benefit from the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), which would allow immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria.

While states are required to provide K-12 education for students regardless of immigration status, the rule does not apply beyond high school. Dreamers are not eligible to receive federal student aid, although they can get financial aid from colleges and U.S. states that choose to offer it. 

Despite continued calls from Senate Democrats for the Biden administration to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt, there has not yet been any action taken to forgive student loans. As of the end of 2021, the average federal student loan debt balance stood at $38,664 per borrower. 

While those repaying federal student loans have enjoyed a reprieve for over two years (repayment was paused in 2020 due to COVID-19), payments will resume on May 1. According to the Federal Reserve, adults carrying student loan debt report lower levels of financial well-being compared to adults who do not have outstanding debt.Student loan debt can hinder people from achieving major financial milestones such as buying a home, investing, saving for retirement, or even paying for regular living expenses. 

Support for Increasing Federal College Grants and Investing in HBCUs

There were some policy proposals helpful to college-bound students that got higher levels of support from survey respondents—although the numbers were lower than other initiatives such as lowering prescription drug costs. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents back increasing federal grants for students who need assistance to pay for college. 

The president’s BBB plan aims to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $550 for the more than 5 million students enrolled in public, private, and nonprofit colleges. Pell Grants help millions of students pay for higher education each year, and unlike student loans, they do not have to be repaid. 

Over half (53%) of survey respondents also expressed support for investing in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and minority-serving institutions (MSIs). 

Political Divide on Higher Education Policies  

In The Balance’s survey of over 1,800 U.S. adults, more than a third (36%) of respondents identified their political affiliation as conservative or very conservative, while nearly a quarter (23%) said they are liberal or very liberal. The rest consider themselves independent, with more independents leaning conservative than liberal.

Minority-focused education policies such as those helping Dreamers and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students revealed a clear political divide, with at least a 25 percentage-point difference in the preferences of conservative and liberal survey respondents. For example, two-thirds of liberals supported expanding federal college grants to Dreamers, while only 34% of conservatives said they backed the initiative. Investing in HBCUs, TCUs, and minority-serving institutions earned almost 70% of support from liberals, while less than half (42%) of conservatives agreed with the proposal. Survey results showed that minority-focused education proposals within the BBB plan were least favored by White Americans. 

Younger Generations Want Student Loans Canceled 

Millennials (ages 26 to 41) and members of Gen Z (ages 18 to 25) backed student loan cancellation the most, with over half of millennials and Gen Zers saying they think the federal government should cancel all student loans. Baby boomers (ages 58 to 76) showed the least support, with just 20% of boomers agreeing student loans should be canceled. 

Overall, survey results showed that millennials were significantly more likely to support the education-related policies in the BBB plan than any other generation, with a majority of millennials backing expanding federal college grants to Dreamers, funding HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs, and increasing federal grants for students who require assistance to pay for college. 

However, education was still in the top three most important issues for every generation except boomers. Boomers showed the lowest enthusiasm for policy proposals supportive of college-bound students, particularly for expanding federal college grants to Dreamers, which was only backed by 27% of Boomers. 

Methodology 

The Balance surveyed 1,800 U.S. adults (aged 18+) from Feb. 8 to Feb. 13, 2022. The survey was fielded online via a self-administered questionnaire to an opt-in panel of respondents from a market research vendor. Respondents were required to be eligible to vote to qualify. Quotas were used to ensure national representation for generation, gender, race/ethnicity, and region using estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey as a benchmark.

Want to read more content like this? Sign up for The Balance’s newsletter for daily insights, analysis, and financial tips, all delivered straight to your inbox every morning!

Article Sources

  1. National Conference of State Legislatures. “Undocumented Student Tuition: Overview.”

  2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2020.”