New Georgia Project Action Fund (NGPAF) is so much more than a voter registration and civic engagement organization. We are also organizers. Through our field work, phone banking, and award-winning research, we engage Georgians across the state to learn what exactly impacts their communities and what solutions the community needs.
A major issue affecting millions of people in the country and in Georgia is student loan debt. Although most of us have been taught that a college degree is our ticket out of poverty and struggle, being riddled with tens of thousands of debt for an education…isn’t giving meal tickets, it’s giving trapped.
This hardship that so many Georgians are faced with inspired NGPAF’s, Agenda for Young Georgians (AYG) to launch the C.L.E.A.R. Campaign. C.L.E.A.R. stands for Cancel Loans for Education and Reparations. I’m the Lead Organizer for AYG and a 2020 graduate of Albany State University. I’m no stranger to federal loans or mobilizing students to get civically engaged. C.L.E.A.R. was launched because thousands of young Georgians have student loan debt, and the burden is even more for Black and brown students like me.
According to the Education Data Initiative, nearly 43 million Americans owe a total of more than $1.62 trillion (that’s trillion with a T) in federal student loan debt. In Georgia, 56% of 2020 college graduates have an average of $27,759 in student loan debt. Four years after graduation, 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more than they borrowed. Young Black adults take on 85% more education debt than their white counterparts, and that disparity compounds by 7% each year after the borrowers leave school, according to a recent study in the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity Journal. With high interest rates, often students spend years paying off the interest before making a dent in the actual loan amount borrowed.
I’ve traveled around Georgia talking to college students across our state and they agree: it’s time to cancel all student loan debt now. We’ve raised our voices online, in the media, and even all the way up in Washington, D.C.
The C.L.E.A.R. Campaign, in partnership with the Debt Collective and NAACP Youth and College Division, chartered a bus and drove 12 hours each way to bring nearly 60 Georgia college students from Atlanta, Georgia to our nation’s capital to call on the Biden Administration to make a lasting impact on history and on the lives of college students, graduates, and anyone across the country who faces the crippling burden of student loan debt. And, y’all, we got our elected leaders’ attention…well, at least a little bit.
On August 24, President Biden announced a new plan to cancel some student loan debt. Specifically, for all Americans with federal student loans who make less than $125,000 (or $250,000 for married couples), the Biden plan will forgive $20,000 in debt for borrowers who are Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for all other borrowers. That’s…a start. And we are grateful! Because we know that $10,000 or $20,000 of forgiveness is a big deal for millions of Americans and thousands of Georgians. But we also know that it’s not enough. NGPAF’s own research found that 52.4 percent of Black voters believe the government should cancel all student loan debt based on income. President Biden could have, should have, and still can cancel all federal student loan debt to give everyone a clean slate.
So, that’s why NGP’s C.L.E.A.R. Campaign still exists, why we are still out in these Georgia streets demanding more action on canceling student loan debt, and talking to young people all over our state to make sure they are registered and ready to cast their ballot in the November midterm elections. As Maya Angelou famously said, “Still I Rise,” and NGP does. We are reminding Georgia voters that it’s because of them that President Biden is in office in the first place—that this first step from the Administration to cancel student loan debt is because of them. We are reminding young people that we have the power to elect leaders who align with our values and put our needs first. That’s our agenda for young Georgians this November as we continue to organize and mobilize to get even bigger wins for our communities.