Warren’s student loan debt cancellation plan aims to help the most vulnerable

It's both politically progressive and literally progressive.

CREDIT: Zach Gibson/Getty Images
CREDIT: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced on Monday a new plan to provide complete student loan debt relief to some 42 million Americans. Her proposal is also specifically geared toward supporting the most vulnerable Americans, in particular non-white families who have less access to higher education.

Warren’s plan would do more to support people with lower incomes. Everyone making $100,000 or less would receive $50,000 in student loan forgiveness. For those earning more, they would receive progressively less forgiveness up to $250,000 in income, with no forgiveness for people earning more than that. This approach would theoretically result in less support for those who received more education (and therefore likely accumulated more debt) but are also in higher-paying jobs, like those with graduate, law, and medical degrees.

According to her campaign, this plan would erase all student debt for more than 75 percent of Americans still paying off loans.

After relieving a generation of debt, Warren’s plan would also introduce universal, free higher education by providing the opportunity for all Americans to attend a two-year or four-year public college without having to take on any debt to cover costs.


As Warren laid out in a Medium post, her plan specifically targets inequities that disproportionately affect Black and Latinx families, and offered solutions to rectify these inequities. For example, nearly half of all for-profit college undergraduates are students of color, and almost all of them took out loans. Most of those who did not complete their program defaulted on those loans. As such, she would phase out any federal dollars going to for-profit colleges “so they can no longer use taxpayer dollars to enrich themselves while targeting lower-income students, servicemembers, and students of color and leaving them saddled with debt.”

Warren also noted that black students were, on average, more likely to need federal student loans and more likely to owe more on those loans after 12 years. Another part of her plan creates a $50 billion fund to support historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) so that they can provide affordable educations comparable to other schools in their area. States that show improvement in enrollment and graduation rates for lower-income students and students of color will also receive increased federal funding.

The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie noted that this is a good example of “targeted universalism,” a policy that could benefit all people but that also accounts for specific disadvantages certain groups face.

The plan would be paid for entirely by Warren’s proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax, which would only impact the country’s 75,000 families with fortunes of $50 million or more. While Warren has previously proposed this tax in her capacity as a Senator, her debt relief proposal remains a campaign promise for now.


Warren has previously supported Bernie Sanders’ proposal to make four-year public college tuition free for some students, but she told CNN that her plan is “bigger,” and “goes further.” She hopes it will help cover more of the costs of higher education beyond tuition, such as books and other life expenses.

She is likewise unapologetic about her emphasis on sweeping policy proposals. “Policy is personal,” she said. “It touches people’s lives.”