Education Secretary Cardona on student debt action: 'We have more work to do'

Cardona backs Biden administration's move to expand Second Chance Pell experiment

WASHINGTON – Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Tuesday acknowledged the Biden administration has more work to do on student loan forgiveness amid new moves to get incarcerated people back into good standing with their student debt.

Cardona spoke to Fox News at an event on the administration's move to expand the Second Chance Pell experiment, which allows incarcerated individuals access to education programs. The program initially was launched under the Obama-Biden administration, but this week's actions include changes for incarcerated borrowers with defaulted loans to qualify for a "fresh start."

"We've been focused on making sure we're putting our borrowers first. We've done more in one year than any of the administration has done combined. So, I'm proud of the progress we're making. And visits like this remind me that we have more work to do," Cardona said.

As part of the new efforts, incarcerated individuals also would be able to consolidate their debt to help them move toward forgiveness.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona at the White House in August 2021. (Win McNamee/Getty Images, File / Getty Images)

"We're giving them a fresh start, and we're also giving them a chance to consolidate their loans, which gives them a pathway to loan forgiveness and to Pell as well," he said.

The Department of Education recently announced a move that would result in the immediate cancellation of approximately 40,000 borrowers – and over 3.6 million borrowers will receive three years of credit toward income-driven repayment forgiveness. According to the agency, the Biden administration already has canceled upwards of $17 billion in debt for over 700,000 borrowers in addition to extending the student loan pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Yet, many Democrats have said that's not enough.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has been the most vocal about pushing President Biden to cancel even more debt for borrowers, said the party must act on this before the midterm elections this fall. 

"We know that the president has the authority to cancel student loan debt and the best way we know that is because President Obama did it, President Trump did it, and President Biden has now done it repeatedly," Warren said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.


Warren was even more direct in her New York Times guest essay last week titled, "Democrats Can Avoid Disaster in November," in which she outlined several actions the party could take to try holding the majority this November. Chief among those issues: canceling more student loan debt. 

"With the stroke of a pen, the president could make massive strides to close gender and racial wealth gaps," Warren wrote.


The Biden administration continued the pause on student loan repayment earlier this year, but advocates for debt cancellation argued that more was needed. Alan Collinge of StudentLoanJustice.Org sent a letter to the president earlier this month expressing his group's disappointment and asking to cancel student debt "broadly."

"Over 1 million of our members asked you to take both of these actions. About half of them are aligned with the democrats, over half of them supported you in 2020 in the expectation that you would fulfill your campaign promises both on bankruptcy, and federal loan cancellation," Collinge wrote. "These people were the difference in close elections like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan. You and your party have an historically rare opportunity to solve this nationally threatening problem, Mr. President. Please do not delay any longer."