College is expensive, and the debt that often comes with it is something many consider a necessary evil. Collectively, Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion dollars in student loan debt, according to Federal Reserve data.
“The reality is education is essential to economic success in America,” Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, told Yahoo Finance.
Abrams is no stranger to student loan debt; she owes $96,512 in student loan debt — nearly three times the national average — to Spelman College, the University of Texas at Austin and Yale Law School.
“I believe that investment in education from cradle to career is vital because it is the only metric that we as a state can invest in that really can transform lives,” Abrams said. “It is a critical piece of economic mobility; it’s also a critical piece of justice and fairness.”
Economic mobility is a key part of the Abrams platform and is a big part of why she’s “bullish” on education. “I’ve experienced it,” she said, referring to her own debt. However, Abrams said she needs only to look at her siblings to see the power of education: her siblings have pursued science, academia, and social work. She also has a sister who’s a federal judge.
“I’m going to invest in making sure that students can go to debt-free college because you shouldn’t finish college crushed by debt and unable to make better choices,” Abrams said.
One survey of more than 3,000 college students found 39% would rather drop out than incur more debt. Abrams wants to update the HOPE program, a Georgia merit-based scholarship, to bring need-based aid.
The HOPE (Helping Outstanding Students Educationally) scholarship was created in the early 1990s and is funded by the state lottery. In order to receive the scholarship, students must graduate from high school with a 3.0 grade point average and maintain the same GPA throughout college. Georgia and New Hampshire are the only two states that don’t offer need-based aid.
“We need to reduce how much debt students have because the reality is if you have too much debt, you drop out.” Abrams said. “When you drop out, you increase the likelihood of not being able to have the kind of success you need which means you become more likely to need government support on the other side.”
“This is an investment that we are making in our future, and the state needs to bear a higher share of that,” Abrams said.