A majority of Americans put affordable college before loan forgiveness A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds majority support for forgiving $10,000 in federal student loan debt, but even broader support for making college affordable for future students.

Americans support student loan forgiveness, but would rather rein in college costs

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

One of President Biden's campaign promises was student debt forgiveness. Now facing the midterms, with his approval numbers slumping, the president is under more pressure to deliver on that promise.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A new NPR/Ipsos poll asks Americans which is more important, loan forgiveness or more affordable college in the future?

MARTINEZ: NPR's Cory Turner is here to walk us through the results. Cory, let's start with whether Americans support some kind of student loan forgiveness. What did you find?

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Slightly more than half - 55% of all respondents - do support the path Biden is reportedly considering, A, which is forgiving up to $10,000 per person. For more generous relief, like $50,000 or even full cancellation, support dips below a majority. Biden has also floated the idea of excluding top earners, presumably to broaden support for cancellation. But the poll found that using income limits did essentially nothing to budge people's support for or against debt relief.

MARTINEZ: What about the borrower side of things? What does the poll tell us specifically about how borrowers are feeling?

TURNER: A couple of things. You know, unlike nonborrowers in the poll, big majorities of borrowers support all three debt relief options. We also know that student loan payments have been paused for more than two years and that most borrowers have not been repaying their loans during that time. Now, in the poll, we found nearly half of borrowers said this payment pause had improved their mental health. So Ipsos specifically asked borrowers, how have they used the money that they haven't had to pay? Borrowers mentioned three big buckets. They spent it on essentials like food and gas. They used it to pay down other debts, like credit cards or a car payment, and then they put it in savings. Mallory Newall at Ipsos says the pause gave borrowers a kind of freedom.

MALLORY NEWALL: But that freedom is not really to make a big purchase like a house or a car or take a vacation. It really is about reprieve, a little bit of breathing room in your day-to-day life.

MARTINEZ: Now, in the poll, you asked, should the government prioritize forgiving some debt for those with existing student loans or making college more affordable for current and future students? What do they say?

TURNER: This - for me, it was maybe the most interesting result in the whole poll. Eighty-two percent of all respondents said the government should prioritize making college more affordable for future students over erasing student debts. Even the majority of respondents with student loans, A, 59%, said the government should prioritize helping future students.

MARTINEZ: Wow, I didn't expect that. What do you make of that?

TURNER: I'm not entirely sure. You know, it's no secret - obviously, college is not affordable for many Americans who take out huge loans because they see it as their only path into the middle class. And forgiving some of those debts would obviously help tens of millions of people. As we've said, President Biden is under a lot of pressure to do something ahead of the midterm elections. But it also tells us, you know, erasing debts without changing the system that created them is really fraught. The problem is President Biden's plans to make college more affordable up to this point haven't gotten very far. And so this fall, you know, we're going to see a whole new generation of students who will be taking out new loans with even higher interest rates than they were last year. And in 10 or 15 years, they'll be the ones pointing back to this moment and asking, what about me?

MARTINEZ: NPR's Cory Turner, thanks a lot, Cory.

TURNER: You're welcome, A.

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