Kamala Harris Vows to Eliminate Student Loan Debt for Graduates of HBCUs Making $125,000 or Less

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the New Hampshire state Democratic Party convention, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Manchester, NH. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris (D) is pledging to forgive student loan debt for students who graduate from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) who make less than $125,000 a year.

Harris said Tuesday during a discussion with students and alumni of HBCUs hosted by Black Enterprise Television (BET):

We know that our black students and in particular those coming from HBCUs have some of the highest rates of student loan debts of all students graduating. Joe and I have a plan that includes forgiving $10,000 of student loan debt right off the top. But also in terms of student loan debt, if you have to take a job after graduation that pays less than $125,000, we will also forgive your student loan debt.

Harris is herself a graduate of an HBCU, having went to Howard University for her undergraduate degree.

She also said those students from a family making less than $125,000 a year would receive free education from public colleges and universities — originally an idea from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“For our younger brothers and sisters who are entering college, for those who are entering from a family who makes less than $125,000, they will receive tuition-free education at public four-year colleges and universities and that will include HBCUs both public and private,” she said.

In addition, she said that for HBCU graduates who become small-business owners, Harris and presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden (D) would invest $100 billion in low-interest loans “targeting black and brown communities.”

Harris and Biden’s campaign website shows a significantly less generous student loan debt plan for non-HBCU graduates, however.

The website said they would double federal Pell grants and significantly increase the number of middle-class Americans who can participate in the grant program, which they estimate currently helps only seven million students a year and covers only 30 percent of educational costs. The increased Pell grant benefits would also be made available to “dreamers,” they said.

The website also said they would more than halve payments on undergraduate federal loans by “simplifying and increasing the generosity of today’s income-based repayment program.” It said that under the plan, individuals making $25,000 or less per year will not owe any payments on their undergraduate federal student loans and also won’t accrue any interest on those loans. However, it said everyone else will pay five percent of their discretionary income (income minus taxes and essential spending like housing and food) over $25,000 toward their loans. Only after 20 years would the remainder of the loans be 100 percent forgiven.

The website said Biden would create a new program to offer public servants $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, for up to five years, or a total of $50,000.

Harris and Biden’s plan of forgiving student loan debt entirely for HBCU graduates is not mentioned on the website’s section on post-secondary education, but it is mentioned on its section for “Black America.”

Their plan has also been reported on by other news outlets. According to a July 9, 2020, article in Forbes (emphasis added):

Biden also would forgive all undergraduate tuition for borrowers who earn $125,000 or less per year and who graduate from a private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI’s).

Another recent Forbes article, dated September 13, 2020, said:

Sen. Harris (D-CA), the Democratic nominee for vice president, said that a Biden-Harris administration would cancel student loan debt for some students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBU’s) [sic]. During a roundtable, Harris discussed the nation’s student loan debt crisis, which now affects more than 45 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.6 trillion.

“In relation to the history of HBCUs, [students] decide to take on a profession of service, which often does not pay as well as if they go into the private sector and do other things,” Harris said. “So for those students who come out and have jobs that pay less than $125,000, student-loan debt will also be forgiven.”

Here is the recent BET event Harris spoke at:


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