Miguel Cardona, President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Department of Education, said he would support student loan forgiveness if confirmed, but gave little indication of what student debt relief might look like in practice.
In a Monday interview with Connecticut Public Radio, Cardona, who serves as Connecticut's education commissioner, said that despite his background in K-12 schools, tackling student debt would be a "would be a priority for me, it would be an area of focus that early on we'd have to really make sure we're coming up with clear support plans and strategies."
Last year federal student loan debt reached an all-time high, nearing $1.6 trillion among more than 40 million Americans, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. On average, student loan borrowers owe between $200 and $299 every month, an amount that for many is simply untenable; about 1 in every 5 borrowers is in default, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
"College is the pathway to continued success and we have to make sure that our students still have access to it and that they're supported in this process," Cardona said.
The education nominee only offered that he was "totally in support" of Biden's plan to back Congressional action that would cancel $10,000 of student debt per borrower and said he would "work with our senators and our Congress folks to support a plan that provides some relief to our students in higher education."
Cardona also indicated that he would be open to prioritizing debt cancellation for the neediest borrowers: "We have to assess the damage that [student debt] is causing … and make sure we're targeting the support for students who need it most."
Tackling the growing debt crisis will be a major issue for the Biden administration to address. On Inauguration Day, Mr. Biden directed the Department of Education to continue the nearly yearlong pause on student loan payment through September. Since March, all federal student loan payments have been suspended as part of the federal government's COVID-19 response.
"Borrowers of all ages are often faced with a tough tradeoff between making their student loan payments, investing in their long-term financial future, or paying their bills," Biden administration officials wrote in a statement. "The pandemic has only increased the economic hardship of the millions of Americans who have student debt."
Cardona said that addressing the student loan crisis is also about creating the future of college and university learning.
"Part of this is recovering from the pandemic, part of this is really reimagining higher education as well," Cardona said Monday.
A confirmation hearing for Cardona has not yet been set.